Viburnum bodnantense, Daphne odora and “Visions of Loveliness”

Spoiled for Choices

      In the Pacific Northwest we can grow more species of plants than anywhere else in the world, except for the tropics, and that’s because of orchid species.

THAT’S impressive!

Meanwhile, plant hunters hang from mountainsides in China to gather plant specimen. Then plants and seeds are gathered and carefully shipped to collectors mostly in England. Then hybridizers take some of those specimens and spend years manipulating them into their idea of either perfect or highly saleable plants and then more than a hundred years later…we buy them at the local nursery.

That’s REALLY impressive!

Two plants filtered down to us by those hunters and hybridizers are winter stars in South Sound gardens, Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Daphne odora

 ‘Dawn’ and a Difficult Daphne

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is a winter flowering pink budded shrub in bloom right now in the South Sound. You will probably smell it before you see it. It has the sweetest scent and pink clusters of flowers that shine like beacons in the bare winter landscape. It grows 8 feet tall and wide in a sunny location. It’s parent plant, Viburnun ferreri was discovered in China by English plant collector Reginald Ferrer, a horticultural rock star. ‘Dawn’ is an easy one to grow.

Viburnum bodnantense

Viburnum bodnantense

Daphne odora is another pink budded shrub that gives a blah winter garden a fragrant punch. If you have tried this winter Daphne you’ll know that it doesn’t matter how well you garden or how much you know about plants. It has a mind of its own. It is unpredictable and temperamental. Benjamin Torin who discovered the Daphne in China sent only one shipment of plants back to England and D. odora was among them. He was drawn in by its spicy sweet fragrance. Where V. x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is easy, Daphne odora is a challenge.

Daphne odora

Daphne odora

Hats off if you kept one alive for several years. You managed to succeed where many just got mad and quit, much like the Daphne. And we still keep buying them.

Collectors crossed rivers, climbed mountains and hung from cliffs to find new plants like Viburnum and Daphne. Then it was the hybridizers’ turn.

“Visions of Loveliness” by Judith M. Taylor

“Visions” is subtitled: ‘great hybridizers of the past’ but don’t let that scare you away. If you are a horticultural history nerd, Judith M. Taylor’s comprehensive “behind the scenes in the plant world” book will keep you on the edge of your fact-filled seat. It reads like a research paper, dense with information and organized for study.

If you would rather pleasure read than study, there are still plenty of good tidbits. What’s the story behind Burpee Seeds? Sutton Seeds? Ball Seed Company? Who is Joseph Banks? Many familiar names pop up and cross paths.

Search by country, hybridizer or plant to really get “in the weeds” of the world of horticulture. It is the perfect hort-head gift.

51zmxxpmhbl-_sx321_bo1204203200_Ohio University Press, 417 p. $29.95


Hippeastrum, Sasanquas and “The Unexpected Houseplant”


Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs are everywhere. As tradition demands, the recognizable cubed boxes are piled high in every Big Box, nursery and Christmas pop up shop. Growing the boxed Amaryllis is easy, cheap and the results are really impressive. The key to success is to get a good bulb in the right growth stage. The only way to make sure it’s good is to…verrrry carefully open the box and take a good look. Usually the giant bulb will have some kind of green shoot. Choose the one with the shortest spike and a visible bud. The “soil” that comes in the box is adequate. Follow the directions, and then plunk the included cheap plastic pot full of Amaryllis into a larger, heavier pot. That way it won’t tip over when the magnificent tropical flowers are in bloom.


Instant gardening gratification for less than $10!


The South Sound is filled with Camellias in early spring. The blousy blooms go from bright pink or white right into brown mush “if” we have a rain. Those are Camellia japonica. They have big leaves, big flowers on big shrubs. But you can skip the “mush” stage and go for an alternative, Camellia sasanqua. Sasanquas are evergreen shrubs with single camellia flowers that bloom in winter. They can be espaliered or allowed to get shrubby. They’re easy to incorporate in any South Sound garden. Most common varieties are red (‘Yuletide’), pink (‘Marge Miller’), white (‘Setsugekka’) and picotee (‘Apple Blossom’).

Sasanquas are easy to find and easy to grow. You can get them in gallon cans or already growing on a trellis. During the holidays it is a southern tradition to float their delicate flowers in pewter bowls.


Here’s a bonus! Sasanquas will bloom inside if you have a room you can keep below a cool 60 degrees. And that’s not the only outside plant you can grow inside. Take a look at…

“The Unexpected Houseplant” by Tovah Martin

– Houseplants are like 501’s…they’re always available but their appreciation fluctuates-

      “The Unexpected Houseplants: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home” by Tovah Martin isn’t just the usual humdrum list of available houseplants. It’s a “forget the ferns and philodendrons and try something different” list.

How about trying Kangaroo Paws, Miniature Eyelash Begonia or Columbine? Every plant listed and photographed is author-grown and owned. Each plant is backed up with factual and anecdotal information. You find out exactly what you need to know from someone who has “been there, done that”.


Martin has spent decades figuring out what (besides tropicals) can be successfully grown inside. At times she has over 200 plants actively growing in her home. “Unexpected Houseplants” is the result of her efforts to expand the plant palette for indoor gardeners. She takes the boring out of houseplant growing.

It’s also worth noting that 200 indoor plants need 200 containers. If your tastes run to horticultural shabby chic…this is the book…

256 p., 171 color photos, Timber Press, $22.95




Stinking Roses and “The Complete Book of Garlic”

Spoiled for Choices

Never has there been a better time to grow your own food. We know why we should: economics, health, safety…For these reasons South Sound gardeners have been growing food long before it was trendy. Thanks to groups like Master Gardeners, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s) and Seattle Tilth. South Sound Gardeners have been taught NOT to grow the same varieties of produce that the local grocery store sells. Why grow the exact same thing you can easily buy?

Remember the apple choices we had at the local supermarket a few years ago? There were two… Red Delicious and Yellow Delicious. Now, you need a guidebook to work your way through the maze of new varieties. We discovered that apples taste VERY different from one another. Cross your fingers that this happens to the world’s most popular fall planted bulb…garlic.

Six Hundred “Stinking Roses”

There are two main types of garlic that comprise a whopping total of 600 varieties! Luckily, they are not all easy to find so you can limit your choices. Out of the 600 varieties, only 2 are usually available in supermarkets. Like apples, all garlic does NOT taste alike. Oh…the possibilities! 600!th

This is where my eyes glaze over but here goes. The two types of garlic that contain the 600 varieties are hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic is easy to grow and can be planted with machines. It also keeps well…guess what they sell at the supermarket? A softneck garlic, of course, because it’s easy and keeps well, i.e., not necessarily grown for taste. We’re just used to it. Most commercial garlic is the softneck ‘Silverskin’ variety, the pretty white ones in the bins, bags and braids. Sadly, most grocery store garlic is imported from China (garlic politics). Imported garlic is really, really cheap and the large US growers are having a hard time competing. Grow something besides Silverskin. It’s patrioticJ

And, of course…there is a book…

“The Complete Book of Garlic” by Ted Jordan Meredith.

When Timber Press calls it a “complete” book of garlic, they’re not kidding. “The Complete Book of Garlic-A Guide for Gardeners, Growers and Serious Cooks” might be more than you ever wanted to know about garlic but I guarantee you won’t be bored. This isn’t just a book with pretty garlicky pictures. It is a well-researched book with garlicky pictures. Meredith throws in plenty of science and history for nerdy gardener/cooks.

th    It’s a timely tome since now is the time to plant garlic here in the South Sound. Nothing could be easier. They all like the same thing: sun, good drainage and decent soil. Plant the cloves 6” apart and occasionally weed and water. That’s it. You don’t harvest until spring so it’s pretty much “plant it and forget it”.

The variety, “Music”, is the local favorite. It is a hard neck variety. It bolts and makes flower “scapes”. That’s a good thing! Garlic scapes (the curled flower stalk) are currently prized by adventurous chefs. Meredith explains when and how to harvest the crazy gourmet scapes and lists the types, subgroups and varieties of garlic that produce them. All those years of “deflowering” garlic scapes and we should have been sautéing instead of composting.

The more you read…well, let’s just say, garlic could become an obsession. At the very least you’ll want to try growing and comparing the taste of a few of the more than 150 varieties he profiles in detail. Become a garlic expert! There can’t be that many…

Timber Press, 332pp,   $39.95



Where to buy?


Local Farmer’s Markets, Omak, Ridgefield, Colfax


Bloomin’ Fools and “America’s Romance with the English Garden”

Summer “Extensions”

It can be argued that most South Sound gardens are primarily filled with Rhodies, Azaleas and Viburnum, all spectacular in bloom… but they all bloom at once. So, the real art of PNW gardening for color is to extend the palette past that spring blast of color. Spring bulbs are good seasonal transition plants but it is perennials and annuals that form the color backbone of the summer garden.

Annuals are easy. Annuals bloom all summer if you take off the dead flowers, throw some water on them when they need it and add a little fertilizer now and then. Easy.

Bloomin’ Fools

Perennials are a little more of a challenge since most of them only bloom for about 4-6 weeks. Luckily, there are a few that bloom almost as long as annuals…with the added benefit of “coming back”.

These perennials reliably bloom May-October in the South Sound and really put on a show. May to October! That’s a long time! Here are some power perennials.       1) Coreopsis (any variety) doesn’t stop blooming and attracts butterflies. 2) Dicentra ‘Luxuriant’ (fern leaf bleeding hearts) is an unusually cold hardy bleeding heart that (unlike the “regular” bleeding heart) can tolerate some sun. 5) Salvia ‘May Night’ is a spiky sage attractive to both hummingbirds and butterflies. It is easy to find and easy to grow.

IMG_4950 (1)

Rudbeckia…one of the bloomin’ fools…


Every garden needs some highlights 6) Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’ is a big name for a perfect summer ornamental grass. This Japanese grass is bright chartreuse and “pops” anywhere you put it in the garden. 7) Carex ‘Bowles Golden’ ornamental grass is similar in color and achieves the same effect. 8) Achillea filipendula ‘Gold Plate’, ‘Coronation Gold’ or ‘Cloth of Gold’ adds another dimension. The flowers of these yarrows are bright yellow with large flat flowers. 9) Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ is a perennial wallflower that sometimes blooms year round. Beautiful blue-gray leaves are a bonus. 10) Echinacea purpurea is the “real” purple cone flower. It is unbelievably hardy and long blooming (unlike the newer varieties).

It just so happens that all of these summer perennials are the direct result of…

“America’s Romance with English Gardens” by Thomas J. Mickey.

Talk to any group of avid South Sound gardeners about their gardening passions and (if they haven’t already been there) they will likely express a wish to visit England and its famous gardens. The world looks to England when it comes to gardening. Thomas J. Mickey explains how and why Americans have a particular fondness for the English garden. It’s not what you think.

9780821420355     It’s all about commerce and advertising and how media played a major roll in pushing the English garden aesthetics onto American gardeners. Some things never change.

“America’s Romance with the English Garden” is a gardening history book about the “wag the dog” process of American seed houses in the 19th century. Their business was growing seeds but they also created tantalizing catalogs and wrote all the gardening books. Their brand of social media steered the new middle class home gardeners straight back to their seeds to grow the beautiful gardens pictured in the catalogs and books…all English landscapes. The seed growers also began the first horticultural societies to educate the masses.

Any nurseryman, home gardener, landscape architect, journalist, anglophile or social media nut will find the book fascinating.

Ohio University Press, $26.95, 231 p.

‘Ayesha’ Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are spectacular this year. I have a particular fondness for hydrangeas because of their smell. I used to hide under a really big blue mophead at my grandma’s house when I played hide and seek with my cousins. When I smell them now, I’m instantly five years old…and more than likely being found since that’s the only place I hid.



I have noticed that FB posts are filled with beautiful Hydrangea pictures and everyone agrees that 2016 is the summer of the Hydrangea!

IMG_6702     This is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’. I bought it about 4 years ago in a gallon can and now it’s 5×5 and loaded with more flowers than ever. Some of the flowers are 12” across. I like the cupped florets. The stems keep the heavy flowers up for the most part. I give it plenty of water and it’s on the East side of a garage. It is shaded in the heat of the day. It’s a little bluer than this but it’s the form that is so pretty. The flowers are very substantial. I’m in the South Sound and didn’t amend the soil when I planted it. It seems very happy where it is. I’m thinking about ripping everything out by the garage and planting nothing but Hydrangeas…

Succulents, “Autumn Joy” and “Succulents Simplified”


Succulent Seduction

What’s this? A trendy group of plants that is affordable?  Here’s another shocker. It’s easy to grow! Succulents (plants that store water) are showing up on more and more nursery benches and the benches aren’t only filled with common “hens and chicks.” Succulents are typically sold in 4” pots and come in all sizes and shapes, from “burro tails” to rosettes. They are easy to propagate and grow fast so save your money and stick with the 4” pots. Later in the summer sedums have sprays of white, yellow or pink straw like flowers. The fascination is with the contrasting leaves. Succulent leaves come in greens, reds and beautiful blues. They need very little water, very little soil and thrive everywhere except deep shade. They are a favorite water conservationists and vertical gardeners.

IMG_4585South Sound’s “Joy”

The most common succulent grown in South Sound gardens is definitely Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’. It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere because it is “unkillable”. S. ‘Autumn Joy’ is a tall succulent that brings a little contrast to the typical PNW garden and gives 12 months of “something”.

The fleshy bluish stems and leaves show up in March and rise to 18” by early summer. Then a large green broccoli-like flower starts forming. By late summer the flower made of hundreds of little stars changes to a rosy pink. The flower lasts about 8 weeks outside and up to a month inside in a vase. Butterfies love them. No pests go after them, not even deer. They don’t need to be staked. They are NOT invasive. They are easy to propagate by literally pulling them apart and plopping them in another well-drained, semi-sunny spot. They only look really ugly for a few weeks in the “dead” of winter… when we should all be inside watching Netflix anyway.

*Plant Nerd Alert: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is also called the Balloon Plant because supposedly you can take a leaf, gently squeeze the base until it opens and then blow it up like a balloon. You first.

“Succulents Simplified”

Debra Lee Baldwin’s “Succulents Simplified: Growing, Designing and Crafting With 100 Easy Varieties” is the only book you’ll need for awhile if you want to dabble in the widening world of succulents. This is Baldwin’s third book about succulents so she speaks from experience.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 3.45.45 PM

She also includes Aeoniums, Agave, Aloe, Echeveria, Euphorbias, Kalanchoe, Cactus and many more along with the “usual” succulents. Fun for us! Check out the local independent nurseries for all the new “unusuals”. There are plenty of them.

Succulents come in a rainbow of colors, tiny to tall and dangerously spiky to silky soft. The creative possibilities are endless. “Succulents Simplified” is rich with examples of clever ways to use them and how to take care of them. A topiary? A tin boxful? A picture frame? Some of these projects would be good ones for kids too, probably age 5 and up…probably skipping the cactus group.

In “Succulents Simplified” Baldwin pulled together succulent propagation techniques, cultivation, clever design ideas with step by step instructions and a way-to-tempting plant list. Timber Press, 272 p. 334 color pictures, $24.95




Daffs, Moss Wars and Moss Gardening

The Daffodil’s Dilemma

Spring bulbs are here for such a short time; you don’t want to lose a minute of them. Is it really true that homegrown daffodils and tulips should not be in the same flower arrangement? Well, yes, it is a very bad idea.


Daffodils produce a slime that tulips can’t tolerate. So, if you really, really want them together, put the homegrown cut daffs in a separate water filled vase for a day until the slime disappears. Take them out of that water and then you can arrange them with tulips. Sounds like a lot of trouble to me, too. I suspect that the daffodils you buy in bunches have already been de-slimed since they are usually sold from a container of water.

Irish vs Scottish

The two most common mosses found in garden centers, “the mosses”, are Scottish and Irish. Scottish moss is the golden one and Irish is the emerald green one. The only real difference is color. They both grow best with four to six hours of sun in good soil and average water. They are typically used to soften the spaces between stones, steps and pavers because they tolerate foot traffic. They are tough but soft, easy but effective. They are good “tuckers and softeners” and they create their own landscape when planted at the base of a rock or an old stump. They add lushness wherever they are used and no respecting secret or fairy garden can go without a little patch of moss. By the way, Irish and Scottish mosses aren’t true mosses. They have little blooms and true mosses don’t.

If you like the soft, mossy look but not the solid, dense look of Scottish and Irish moss try the lacier look of Selaginella. All the true mosses and “not quite mosses” add a soft texture to the garden that no other plant can achieve. They are backgrounders and blenders but they can change the “feel” of any landscape.

Speaking of moss….

“The Magical World of Moss Gardening” by Annie Martin

All you have to do is read author Annie Martin’s poetic description of the beauty of moss and you know she has a serious moss addiction. Thanks to Martin’s research and hand on experience “The Magical World of Moss Gardening” is probably the only reference you’ll need to dive into gardening with moss …the politics (timely), the history and the use and cultivation.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 9.39.32 PMThe politics…Martin points out that 5% of air pollution in the United States can be traced back to lawn mowing…no lawn mower needed if you decide to grow a moss lawn. Since we have no trouble growing moss in our South Sound lawns, the thought of cultivating the moss instead of the grass is very tempting. Martin tells you exactly how to do it.

Beginning with beautiful examples of established moss gardens, followed by an encyclopedic list of recommended moss varieties and rounding it out with all important maintenance information, “The Magical World of Moss Gardening” might just be the tipping point for the slow demise of the grass lawn. Here in moss country it makes perfect sense.

222 pages, Timber Press

More Reviews Here

To see a local and truly amazing moss garden visit Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.



Slimeless Ferns, Horsetail Woes and “Guide to Ferns”

“Slimeless” in the South Sound

The dead of winter…fitting. Bare tree branches, rhody leaves folded down to keep out the cold and hope upon hope there won’t be another PKW (Phormium Killing Winter).

Driving around the South Sound you’ll notice one plant that is miraculously unaffected by even the worst South Sound winters. The plant that always survives…the most unappreciated plant of all…the common Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), the better half of what makes Western Washington green. Without Doug Firs and Sword Ferns we would look pretty bare.


As garden plants go, sword ferns are easy to find (buy one or find a friend who lives in the woods). They are easy to transplant and even easier to grow. They stay green through snow, sleet, hail and rain. They grow in sun, shade, wet, dry and even in drought. The word “indestructible” comes to mind. Sword ferns grow to a majestic 4 feet or more and are ideal as fillers in a northwest style garden or all alone in a corner where they can reach their full potential. Sword ferns may be common but they are uncommonly beautiful.

Unlike other hardy perennials, sword ferns are completely “slimeless”. Just cut away old fronds in the spring.

First to Worst

If a common sword fern scores 100% in “horticulture world” then the lowly horsetail (which is also a fern) scores close to 0%. Horsetail (Equisetum) is the sole survivor in the 100 million year old line of its plant family. It’s still here. If it lasted 100 million years, then maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves when we can’t get rid of it.


After all, it is resistant to herbicide, resistant to solarization (covering an area with clear plastic for an entire summer) and it laughs if you try to stop it with Weed Block. You can dig it up and pull it up but unless you do it carefully and often, you may become a horsetail farmer. The only way to get rid of it is to starve it. Whenever you see even a small sprout, soak the soil around it and carefully lift it out with a trowel. You may have to camp out over it to keep it in check. One bit of good news. It’s slow to establish.

Horsetail is also listed as an herbal remedy…but what isn’t?

“The Plant Lover’s Guide to Ferns” by Steffens, Olsen

Ferns are a confusing group of plants. Ferns don’t have seeds or flowers and their botanical names are almost unpronounceable. They can be hard to identify too. And yet, hardy ferns continue to gain popularity and pride of place in South Sound gardens because, once again, we have the perfect climate. “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Ferns” simplifies and demystifies hardy ferns. Authors Richie Steffens and Sue Olsen don’t just identify and collect hardy ferns, they use them in their gardens. It turns out there is a hardy fern for every part of the garden. Hardy ferns grow in sun and shade and in wet and dry soils. They are good mixers in containers and striking as solitary architectural focal points.


Hardy ferns are a huge learning curve for most of us. There are 12000 of them! Typically, fern books are written for reference and identification. That’s great but what do you do with a fern after you identify it correctly and learn how to say the name? That’s what a gardener needs to know. Where do I put it and how do I take care of it? “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Ferns” finally answers the questions…simply.

How lucky we are to have so many great horticulturists and garden authors in Western Washington. Richie Steffens, Curator of the Elizabeth B. Miller Garden and Sue Olsen, owner of Foliage Gardens, author of The Encyclopedia of Ferns and both past presidents of the Hardy Fern Foundation, have written a fern book “for the rest of us”. Timber Press, $24.95, 237 pages


Puddling Leeks, Sex in the Garden and Building Healthy Soil

Puddling Leeks

January is the earliest month to start spring vegetable and flower seeds indoors for transplanting in April. Start herbs like Basil, Chives, Parsley, Oregano and Thyme. Annual seeds like Zinnias, Marigolds and Geraniums and perennials like Rudbeckias, Poppies and daisy types can be started now too.

2014-04-26 03.16.07Start onion seeds like Walla Walla, Spanish and Evergreen Bunching. Leeks can be started now to be “puddled” in early spring. “Puddling” is making a very deep hole (about 8”) with a tool handle or a dibble, drop in the single leek transplant to the bottom of the hole and fill the hole with water. Don’t backfill with soil. The soil will settle on its own around the leek transplants. The deeply planted winter leeks will have nice long white ends when you harvest it sometime in the fall. Winter Leeks have a very long growing period.

Here’s a link to a good UK site with a step by step of how to grow leeks.


Sex in the Garden

b“Pollinators” are birds, bees, butterflies, beetles, wind, rain, your sleeve, your hand…you get the picture. A pollinator carries pollen from a flower’s male anther to its female stigma. A “pollinizer” is the plant that provides the pollen. Sex in the garden.

Pollinators are necessary for our food supply, bees in particular. By now we all know that the bee populations are in big trouble. Their decline is blamed on viruses, pesticides and GMO’s but nobody really has a definitive answer about the honeybees’ disappearance. We CAN do something in our own yards to help save and increase the local bee populations. It’s simple. Plant flowers that attract honeybees. Now is a good time to start planning for those flowering plants for next spring and summer. Why plan now? Planning for gardening in the warmer seasons makes these short dark days a little brighter.

To get started…IMG_4713

Bees cannot see red but they do see blue, yellow and ultraviolet. This past summer I noticed that Oregano, Lavender and Snapdragon flowers drew honeybees into my yard like crazy. Honeybees like little irregular flower tubes. Add any of these bee magnets and the bee population in your garden will increase. If these pollen-laden bee-attracting plants are grown in the best soil possible, we have a win win. Well-grown pollinizers attract great pollinators.


“Building Soil” by Elizabeth Murphy

No matter how you dress it, “soil” in a title isn’t likely to draw much excitement. And yet, soil is the most important component of any garden. Without the right soil mixture you might as well forget the whole thing and landscape with concrete. Good soil is important. Good soil saves plants and in turn saves money.

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“Building Soil” by Elizabeth Murphy (March 2015) is a complete “how to” for the home gardener: how to know what soil you have, how to improve your soil and how to maintain soil health and make it sustainable. Sustainable soil is soil that is healthy enough to take care of itself. Learn everything about compost, mulches, fertilizing, water movement and cultivation. Everything associated with healthy garden soil is covered in depth and with a bit of humor. Consider it a necessary garden reference book.

“Building Soil: Natural Solutions for Better Gardens and Yards” is practical and understandable…and it has pictures!


Cool Springs Press 200 pages $22.99