Sweet Casa Blanca Lilies, Spicy Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ and “Month-by-Month Gardening in the Pacific Northwest”

This particular South Sound summer feels like a big reward for slogging through one of the coolest, wettest springs on record. Never has “that’s what makes Washington green” been more of an eyeroller. We know! We know! We had a lot of rain!

     You know that earthy smell after a good rain? It has a weather name, “Petrichor”. July and August replace that earthy smell with…

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Sweet Casa Blancas

Casa Blanca lilies are forced into bloom for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in February and they are a good “hook” to get you to buy the bulbs for your own garden. Their strong, sweet fragrance is irresistible. They’re blooming right now in the South Sound. Their flowers are a pure white and can be 10 inches across. They grow 4 feet tall in full sun and fast draining native soil.

         Cut them and bring them inside for sweet natural air freshener but make sure you remove the dark stamens. Lilies last longer and look tidier when the pollen-laden stamens are gently removed. Pollen smudges are notoriously difficult to eliminate from both clothes and nose.

     Nurseries sell the bulbs already planted in case you missed the bulbs at the NWFGS in February. Hurry though… Casa Blanca are the first to go. They’re that good.

     Honeysuckle, gardenia, heirloom and English roses and nicotiana are more good choices on the sweet side of fragrance. But not everyone likes sweetness so we also have…

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Spicy Dianthus ‘Firewitch’

Dianthus is the “chai tea” of flowers with its unmistakable cinnamon-clove-like spicy scent. Dianthus includes pinks, carnations and sweet William. There are more than 300 different varieties so finding one to suit your needs should be no problem even if you’re looking for groundcover.

     Dianthus gratianopolitanus, Cheddar Pink, is a low growing matting groundcover that is literally smothered with spicy flowers all summer. Cheddar Pinks like full sun and fast draining soil. They are especially good in rock gardens or near rock and concrete walls because they like neutral to alkaline soil. Pinks are long lasting and if you want more take cuttings now to increase your mats. ‘Firewitch’ is the easiest to grow and easiest to find and ‘Tiny Rubies’ takes first place in “smallest and sweetest”.

     The springtime scramble is to get everything planted. The summertime scramble is to keep everything alive. Sometimes a guide is called for…

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“Month-by-Month Gardening in the Pacific Northwest”

Finally! We have a comprehensive guide to gardening just for us! Garden guides need to be specific to the area and since a majority of the large publishing houses tend to be back east, many of the gardening manuals concentrate more on their climate and their growing conditions. A majority of garden authors are from the Atlantic side too. But we’re gaining ground. We have knowledgeable garden voices from the Pacific side.

     Christina Pfeiffer and Mary Robson, author/consultants, of the “Month-by-Month Gardening in the Pacific Northwest” are both Washingtonians who live and garden here. They know their stuff.

     The no nonsense guide by Pfeiffer and Robson serves an avid gardeners most important goal. It prevents you from wasting your precious gardening time. It hones in on the most important jobs and gives you confidence to complete them because the information is thorough and current. It isn’t a coffee table book; it’s one that you’ll use.

   Cool Springs Press, $24.99, 200 pages of solid information.

Best Gardening Gloves

Gardening gloves… Almost as personal as pruners. But the more manufacturers pump out new colors (lime green to black), new materials (soft and fuzzy “hand girdles”) and new gimmicks (smart phone and claw fingers for example) the more I appreciate good, long lasting normal gardening gloves. Gardening gloves should be functional and washable and fit the climate.

     For my money, there are 4 gardening gloves that serve all of these purposes.

     The very best lightweight summer gloves are Nitrile Gloves and Atlas Super Grips.

     Nitrile Gloves are meant to fit tight, like a rubber glove. They hug the wrist so soil doesn’t creep in. You can pick up a seed with these and you don’t need some special smart phone “finger” on more expensive gloves in case your phone rings…Nitrile gloves work just fine with a smart phone.

I love these for weeding because you can surgically grab the unwanted…I like these for potting up containers and weeding out things like shotweed, chickweed and other shallow rooted weeds. If you slather on some decent hand cream before you put them on you’ll avoid the embedded dirt that comes with wild and crazy weeding. Washable and dryable.

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     Atlas Super Grips are also lightweight but they are better for major weeding and planting. They offer more protection from slugs, stickers and evidently concrete and fish slime.

You’ll see them used on construction sites and fishing boats so you know they’re tough enough for gardeners too. I use them when digging and grabbing. Good for spring and summer gardening. Washable and dryable.

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     The Orange Atlas Gloves are the absolute best for wet weather. They have a soft warm lining so I usually use them when it’s either cold or muddy or both. They have a good grip on tools and a They are very flexible so they’re comfortable. They are oil and chemical resistant so you’ll see these being used for far more than gardening. The longer wrist cover makes them excellent for spreading fertilizer or spraying. I wouldn’t wear any other gloves if I was working around wet stuff. Washable and dryable.

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     The jobs that beg for a special pair of gardening gloves are rose pruning and thorny berry picking. You can add pulling out blackberries to that. You want something that thorns cannot penetrate and you want a protective glove that fits like a gauntlet, a Mud Rose Gauntlet

This is the one time that leather is ideal. These are the spendy ones. Goatskin is the preferred material for dexterity and puncture resistance. Your arms will thank you. These don’t wash and dry…you just take good care of them. 

     Avoid the knock-offs for all of these…not worth it.

 

Alstroemeria to Zinnia and “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” by Tracy DiSabato-Aust


Now”s the Time

If there was ever a time to start, carry on or obsess about gardening…this is it. Except for dirty hands, occasional sore muscles and rages against the weather, it’s the one pastime that doesn’t discriminate against anybody or anything.

Every garden region has its bragging rights. South Sound gardeners can brag about mild weather, beautiful public gardens and parks, great nurseries and enthusiastic horticulturists. We know what we can grow…basically everything that doesn’t require dry heat. From Alstroemeria to Zinnias and everywhere in between, the plant world is there for us. Beginning with…


Alstroemeria Appreciation

Alstroemeria are the cut flower growers’ sweet spot right now. They’re easy to grow, easy to transport and they last a crazy long time in water. You can buy them or for the price of a couple of cups of fancy coffees, you can grow your own. Granted, many of the Alstroemeria varieties and species are invasive but who cares? More flowers. Pull out, don’t cut the flower stems and they will keep regenerating. They grow in sun and bloom June-October.

Pacific Sunset Alstroemeria

“Sweet Laura” has variegated leaves and is the first scented Alstroemeria (make that…slightly scented). It’s a good choice if you would rather have a non-invasive one. Alstroemeria flowers are usually in shades of pinks, yellows and peaches…and in a mixed bouquet…they’re the last to go. From Alstroemeria to…


Zinnia Love

Seed-starting failures have prompted many gardeners to completely give up on the process. Totally understandable, especially if you start with seeds that have to be frozen, set on fire or scratched. It doesn’t just take patience; it takes expertise for those. Make it easy on yourself.

Just a bee and a Zinnia from a mixed packet.

Start with Zinnia. You can’t go wrong. They’re easy and inexpensive. They come in wild, bright mixed color packets. If you’re an orange hater (and there are plenty), seed packets of single colors are there to soothe the sensibilities. Zinnia flowers measure from 1” to 6” across They are single, double, fringed or cactus-flowered. They grow in full sun, require little water and bloom all summer. They are “common” but they are spectacular. Their colors mix well with the perennials that are favored by South Sound gardeners. Our perennial plant boom is due in large part to tempting and well-written books like…

 


“The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” by Tracy DiSabato-Aust

 This is the third edition of a classic perennial book. It must be good. It sets itself apart from other perennial books because it is not just a rehash and reorganization of everybody else’s experiences. It’s current and it’s comprehensive.

  Sibato-Aust writes about more than planting and laying out perennial gardens. She goes into detail about how to maintain them. There are decisions to be made with perennials. Where should they be planted? Do you need to stake them? Do they respond to dividing and when do you divide them? Do you cut them back or just deadhead them? Just exactly what kind of pruning is needed for each perennial? All of those questions are answered along with an encyclopedia of the most popular perennials available and their vital statistics.

If you are interested in growing perennials and maintaining them to look their best, this is the only book you need…until it’s revised again. Timber Press, 384 pages, 316 photos, $34.95

 

A Collector of Plants


Collectors come in all types and temperaments. Just the idea of “collecting” conjures up mental pictures of rooms filled with stuffed bears, Star Wars characters “in their original packages” and hermetically sealed and signed baseballs. Collecting is a national epidemic.

     Some people collect for money and some collect for love but once the “I need to have ‘em all”  bug bites, whether it’s bears, Chewbacas or baseballs, there is no turning back.  The passionate collector becomes blessed or burdened with a generous mixture of obsession, competition and a dash of greed, usually in that order. 

     Although they qualify for all of the above, plant collectors are a little bit different. Yes, they are obsessed. If seeking out the latest horticultural wonders is competitive, they’re also competitive. Greed, however, is replaced by an overwhelming desire to share their bounty.  Entire gardens have been created with “pass-along plants” from passionate, generous plant collectors.

     One such plant collector is Erik Ortengren. Erik  is a self confessed plant nut and collector of unusual and rare plants. As a boy of 10, Erik was bitten by the plant bug when living near the water in Gig Harbor in the 1970’s. The house faced the water and had a steady parade of avid boaters. Many houses placed containers of flowers within easy view of the boats, all perfectly acceptable. Erik put together a few containers for his Mom and the boaters complimented “the kid in the honey colored log house” for a job well done. That did it. First of all, he enjoyed the process of putting everything together and second he got an added bonus for his efforts, immediate and very positive feedback. iA plant nut was born.

     Plant collectors run the gamut. Some collect only roses, dahlias or irises and some collect colors (blue gardens, white gardens, ). Some collect for history (Medieval herb gardens, early American gardens) and some will collect and go out of their way to get any new plant introduction. (This is where the competition and greed kick in ).

      Erik has his own criteria for what makes the cut in his garden. He goes for plants that do double and triple duty.  His personal garden goal is to have year round interest; color in flower, leaf or bark 12 months of the year. This is not a low maintenance garden goal. It’s obvious that a lot of observation and close study are required and Erik pours over books, magazines and catalogs to learn as much as he can before he makes up his mind to add any  new plants. His space is limited so he is a very deliberate and thoughtful gardener.  His favorite reference is a catalog. The old Heronswood Catalogs (cleverly written by Dan Hinkley, plant hunter extraordinaire) are filled with unusually tempting and well-described plant material. Erik isn’t afraid of plants that offer a challenge. His favorite plants cover everything from bulbs to shrubs.

    Without hesitation, Erik will tell you that his favorite plant is the hardy cyclamen. And to prove that he is a patient gardener, he grows them from seed as he does many other small bulbs. . He has to grow from seed because they aren’t very easy to find as plants. As a matter of fact there are only 8 known species which makes it an ideal collector’s plant if you enjoy the hunt.

    Erik’s home garden is tucked away in a little known part of Lakewood where neighbors share a swiftly running creek flanked by Northwest natives.. They all tend to let the wild be wild and cultivate the areas closest to their houses.

Reprinted with permission Premier Media Group, South Sound Magazine, Tacoma, WA

 

     

Sophia’s Garden Tools

Since I am kind of a garden nut, it is only natural that I tried to get my one and only grandchild to get interested in gardening. Sophia has her own little spot between two garages. It’s mostly a mess all the time but I did manage to get a Fairy rose, some sweet peas and a few sunflowers to survive through the spring and summer. I’m pretty sure I get more out of it than she does but I’m not giving up on her. Here are a few of her favorite tools.

 

The 5 piece indestructible plastic little hand tools have lasted 4 years outside hanging up, waiting for any emergency digging.

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She has had these for a couple of years and they just now fit. These are good for 5 year olds. “Ducky Gloves”. Getting all the cute little fingers in the right glove fingers is so funny.

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The little Lady Bug Kneeler is just her size. She mostly uses it to sit on. 

____________________________________________________________________________If this doesn’t teach patience, nothing does. We haven’t actually tried this little Kid’s Flower Press but I think we’ll try it this spring. 

The Tool Shed: Nejiri Gama Hoe


The Japanese Nejiri Gama Hoe cuts through the top bit of soil to scrape off shallow rooted weeds and mosses. The whole idea behind the scraper is to only go deeply enough to scrape away roots from weeds like chickweed, shotweed and shallow grasses.

NEJIRI GAMA HOE FROM JAPAN has been a bestseller for 30 years. and it’s only $14.

According to Google the literal translation of  Nejiri Gama means “torsion spring”. I guess it is a little “springy”. You grab it and scrape it over the soil. The beauty of the shallow weeding is…you don’t pull up, stir up and mix up weed seeds down below. Cultivating to get rid of weeds pulls up the roots but it also pulls up the weed seeds and gives them a good start.

Nejiri Gama Hoes come in right and left handed versions and are now popular enough to be manufactured by many companies including Dutch and Japanese manufacturers. Stick with those. Others are sad knockoffs. They come in short handles and some that are

DUTCH LEFT HANDED NEJIRI HOE Good for long raised beds and under shrubs.

LONG HANDLED NEJIRI GAMA HOE FROM JAPAN The long handled version of the Nejiri Hoe from Japan

about 18″ long for a longer reach. You can also get a long handled stand-up version but I have found that the angle is all wrong when the handle is long and you’re standing up.

They start at about $14 and go up from there.

 

The Tool Shed: Bachi Hoe and Hoso Hoe

The Japanese Bachi Gata Hoe breaks up soil and gets rid of any political frustrations that might be lingering. It is not light weight, The heavy part is on the business end and the down stroke digs deep. The weight of it does all the work. Lighter weight hoes rely on arm strength. The Bachi Gata Hoe relies on its heft.

Let’s see…chop up difficult clay soil, glide through normal soil, plant bulbs, make furrows, weed and plant and grow your triceps!

Like many of the Japanese tools, the Bachi Gata began is a traditional farmer’s tool. The fact that it is still used means it must be good. 15 1/2″ long with a 3″x5″ head

If you need something a little narrower and longer then the Japanese Hoso Hoe works. It slices deeper  in narrower spaces. I keep reading that this is a “one hand” hoe…uh, yeah.  15 1/2″, a 2″x7″ head

TMI: References to a hoe appeared in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. The hoe has changed with the times, from stone to wood to copper, bronze, iron and steel. It was considered worth stealing in Colonial times. Hoes were a valuable and prized tool for Colonists. They were needed and stealing one was like stealing a horse. (almost)

5 Hidden Gems (nurseries) in the Washington’s South Sound


Five Hidden Gems in The South Sound

The South Sound is filled with small, charming locally owned independent nurseries in out of the way places…some so out of the way that even Google Maps gets confused. They are deep in residential neighborhoods, at the foot of Mt. Rainier and along country roads. Smaller nurseries have something the larger ones may not be able to offer…they have that personal touch.


Old Goat Farm

Old Goat Farm in Graham is one of those Google Maps challenges, but once you find it, you won’t want to leave. There is something very comforting about it.

Greg Graves, the horticulturist, and Gary Waller, the clever designer, run the nursery and tend the garden that runs along one side of a Victorian farmhouse. Behind the house and garden is a critter-filled farm with goats (of course), ducks, geese, chickens…lots of birds. It’s worth visiting just to see Casper the white peacock when he decides to fan out his enormous feathers.

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The nursery runs alongside the other side of the house and spills over onto long tables. It includes five species of peonies that Greg grew from seed.

The garden near the nursery area is filled with the 25 truckloads of plants that Greg and Gary moved from a previous garden into Old Goat Farm. They called those truckloads their “starter garden”. I’m pretty sure that qualifies them as plant nuts. People who have visited Old Goat Farm generally return because the place just feels good.

IMG_6955Greg conducts horticultural tours for the Northwest Horticultural Society and has a world of plant knowledge to share. Gary as the designer leaves evidence of his touches throughout the garden. It takes several walks through to see all the cleverly completed projects…see if you can find the moss covered concrete bunnies hidden under a Hammamelis.


Vassey Nursery

Vassey Nursery is set deep in a residential area near downtown Puyallup. Like many small nurseries, Worth Vassey’s began as a hobby. His greenhouse was full of geraniums, fuchsias and tomatoes. He overwintered fuchsia baskets for many gardeners in the area and began to grow a business. Then his son, Steve, kicked it up a notch. Vassey’s is now a thriving neighborhood nursery with 14 greenhouses and a beautifully landscaped compact ornamental garden that skirts the well-grown trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.

Walking through Vassey’s is nothing short of inspirational. The nursery is well known for its hanging baskets, especially geraniums and mixed plantings. Carrying on the tradition of his father, Steve grows a wide variety of tomatoes and has added hardy fuchsias to his plant portfolio.

Nancy Shank has been on staff at Vassey Nursery for 12 years. She is one of those intrepid “go-to” horticulturists with experience you can only get by being an avid gardener yourself. “Nancy will know” is usually a safe assumption. If you are lucky enough to live near Vassey’s, you will recognize Nancy. Come armed with plant questions. “Nancy will know. “


Gardensphere

Travis and Gabe…the Gardensphere brothers, have created quite a unique neighborhood nursery in a small lot at the lower end of the popular Proctor District in North Tacoma.

They started the nursery 13 years ago when they were 21 and 18. They started with a landscaping business and then opened the nursery. They soon discovered that they liked the nursery work better so they quit landscaping to concentrate on the nursery.

Travis is the plant nut and Gabe handles more of the business end but Travis is quick to point out…”We’re both strong on chickens!” This very urban garden shop is a source for all things chicken coup related, a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Gardensphere is like “Cheers” without the bar where everybody knows your name. It has a quiet energy about it. Travis says that their customers come back because of the attention they know they’ll get.


The Barn

The Barn Nursery on old 99 near Rochester has been a community resource for Olympia for 30 years. It is the largest of these independent nurseries. The Barn has grown into a popular destination nursery partly because of the accumulated experience of its staff.

Horticultural experience in an independent nursery can’t be overlooked. Along with personal service, it’s what sets them apart from the big guys. Customers catch on to this…

Chris Watkins is a perfect example. Chris has been at The Barn for about 25 years. Why does she like working there? “Why the plants, of course and the people I meet on a regular basis…the ever increasing changing world of plant offerings”.

Chris’s nursery experience naturally spills into her home garden which she admits is a garden of “trials and errors”. It’s far too tempting to be surrounded by new plant varieties in the nursery and not take them home to try them out. After many years of experimenting she knows the “tried and true” plants that grow well. She can confidently answer questions about plant habits and make suggestions to meet her customer needs. Whatever the plant, she probably grew it and if you don’t grow it, you don’t really know it.


Gartenmeister Plant Shop

Gartenmeister Plant Shop is one of those timeless nurseries that somehow feels familiar…like you have already been there whether you have or not. It sits on about 2 acres of a working nursery. It hasn’t changed much since 1983 when his parents opened the doors. Owner Clem Manual and his customers like it that way.

According to Clem staying small is one reason why Gartenmeister is still here after 33 years. Staying small allows them to know both customers and plants. Clem says his long time customers have become friends. One did complain a little because Clem dared to paint the walls in the small customer service area. He even moved a rack from one side of the room to the other. Oh no! Sometimes change is just wrong…

Visiting Gartenmeister is a little like going back in time…no website…nothing flashes…no computer generated signs…just a friendly atmosphere and people who know what they’re doing and know what they’re talking about.

 

 

Old Goat Farm, Garden and Nursery

20021 Orting Kapowdin Hwy. E.

Graham, WA 98338

360-893-1261

oldgoatfarm.com

 

Vassey Nursery

2424 Tacoma Road

Puyallup, WA 98371

253-841-3550

vasseynursery.com

 

Gardensphere

3310 N. Proctor

Tacoma, WA 98407

253-761-7936

gardensphere.biz

 

The Barn Nursery

9510 Old Highway 99 SE

Olympia, WA 98501

thebarnnurseryolympia.com

 

 

Gardenmeister Plant Shop

16015 81st Ave Ct. E.

Puyallup, WA 98375

253-848-7044

The Tool Shed: The Hori Hori Story

A  collection of Hori Hori knives has been forced upon one of my gardening friends. She has composted, lost or thrown away an embarrassing number of them, so many of them that she tries to always have a spare.

So, what’s the big deal with Hori Hori’s? First of all, they have been around forever in Japan as a go-to farmer’s knife so it is obviously functional.  How do you use it? The list is endless…

1. Transplant bedding plants and large seedlings

2. Cut heavy roots for stump removal

3. Plant bulbs for spring or summer

4.  Make furrows for seed starting

5. Dig out tap roots from weeds like dandelions

6. Harvest root crops like leek, carrots and beets

7. Loosen soil to get ready to plant

8. Bonsai collecting

9. Hunting and fishing tool (?)

10. Metal detecting tool

Deciding which Hori Hori to buy is pretty simple. Stay away from the knock-offs. The most durable Hori Hori’s  are Japanese. Then there are 4 good choices; Long and Short Handled Carbon Steel and Short and  Mini Stainless Steel.

If you are gardening in a lot of mud, it’s worth getting the Stainless Steel Hori Hori. Mud slides off stainless steel blades. Stainless steel can still rust if not maintained. Stainless steel is hard and does not keep a sharp edge as long and is a softer material. Good for bulb planting since the mud slides off. Bulb planting can be a muddy, sloppy job.12 1/4″

Otherwise, the Carbon Steel Hori Hori is just fine. I live in a rainy area and I’m fine with Carbon Steel. It will rust if you don’t clean and dry it but it stays sharper longer. It is hard and wear resistant.11 1/2″

383-1The Long Handled Hori Hori  is Carbon Steel and adds a few inches to make reaching easier. It is helpful in raised beds. Carbon Steel blades stay sharper longer and are harder and more resistant to heavy use. 14 1/2″

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 7.58.49 PM The Mini Hori Hori has a stainless steel blade and is more comfortable for smaller hands and smaller jobs.  It’s great for planting minor bulbs like Crocus, Grape Hyacinths and Snowdrops. Mud and wet soil slides off so it’s especially good for the small bulb planting.10″1061-1.gif