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

 

     

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

Pre-planted Bulbs, Thrilling Pots and “Gardening with Foliage First” by Salwitz and Chapman


Bulb Enlightenment

You know those bulbs you really intended to buy and plant last October? I didn’t do it either but luckily the nurseries are carrying the pre-planted already growing ones to brighten up those empty containers hidden in the garage. It’s not cheating…really…no guilt. Grab a trowel

IMG_7661 (1)Buying them already growing is a little more expensive but look at it this way…you’ll get the color you want and you didn’t have to plant them back in October. Win…win…


Thrillers, Spillers and Fillers

While the bulbs are still going strong, might as well plan how to cover the ugly bulb foliage that is sure to follow. To make it easy on yourself, choose plants that survive with “monitored neglect”. Try something “new for you”. Mix it up. Break some rules. Other than planting bog and desert plants in the same container you can’t make a mistake and you’re only limited by money, what plants are available and a decent container.IMG_4347

As long as the container has drainage you can use just about anything. Plastic pots are lightweight and easy to move but plants supposedly like clay pots more because their roots can breathe. The large glazed pots can be too heavy to move so think of those as permanent fixtures. Treat the lighter containers as moveable plant furniture.

And choosing what to add to the ugly bulb detritus?  The container plant trinity is the basis. Choose a thriller (tall plant with a “wow” factor), a spiller (something “ivy-ish” that flows over the sides) and a filler (medium height to fill in the spaces). After the basic three, add and subtract plants on a whim. Play around with color, texture and new varieties…and labeling them isn’t a bad idea.

How about experimenting with all foliage?

“Gardening with Foliage First “

by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz

Here in the plant mecca that is the South Puget Sound, we have an embarrassment of color in spring and summer. We tend to buy when something is “in color”…blooming. But the truth is…a majority of the time we’re looking at foliage, bark and berries and maybe that should be our focus.

“Gardening with Foliage First”, the second foliage book by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz, both Washingtonians, has what we all want in a gardening book…new information presented in an engaging way with lots of pictures! Rather than listing of what might be good foliage combinations Chapman and Salwitz show beautifully photographed examples of the finished products. Some examples are shown in a landscape and some are in containers. Many are enhanced with garden art to show its importance in a well thought out landscape.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 6.05.17 PMThe book is divided into seasonal examples for both shade and sun. Within these parameters specific combinations are suggested with names like “The Magpie Effect”, mixing shiny and pale colored plants that will grow under evergreens or “Whipped Cream on Lemon Mousse” suggesting a dessert-like combination of white Astilbe hovering over golden Japanese Forest Grass. There are 127 cleverly named foliage combinations featuring everything from cactus to coleus and ferns to fuchsias.

“Gardening with Foliage First “ is original and cleverly written. It’s not only a good reference book; it’s a fun read.

Timber Press, 320 p, $24.95

 

 

 

Viburnum bodnantense, Daphne odora and “Visions of Loveliness” by Judith M. Taylor


Fortunate South Sound Gardeners 

      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.

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.

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” by Tovah Martin


Amaryllis-in-a-Box

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.

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Instant gardening gratification for less than $10!


Sasanqua-in-a-Pot

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. Cut flowers with a nice, sharp pair of pointed shears.

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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”. Here’s an indispensable houseplant trimmer.

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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” by Ted Jordan Meredith


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 patriotic.

Releasable Bulb Planters make planting lots of garlic fast and easy

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

 

Sidebar?

Where to buy?

 

Local Farmer’s Markets

Filareefarm.com, Omak

Northwestorganicfarms.com, Ridgefield

Greyduckgarlic.com, Colfax

 

Bloomin’ Fools and “America’s Romance with the English Garden” by Thomas J. Mickey


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.

3) Salvia ‘May Night’ is a spiky sage attractive to both hummingbirds and butterflies. It is easy to find and easy to grow.

Dewit makes a handy wider trowel just for your perennials.

Every garden needs some highlights

4) 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.

5) Carex ‘Bowles Golden’ ornamental grass is similar in color and achieves the same effect.

6) 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.

7) Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ is a perennial wallflower that sometimes blooms year round. Beautiful blue-gray leaves are a bonus.

8) 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.


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.

Daffodils, Moss Wars and “Moss Gardening” by Annie Martin


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.

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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.

Timber Press, 222 pages, 236 color photos, $24.95

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

 

 

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


“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.

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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.

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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.

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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