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

Five hidden gems

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.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 7.44.19 PM















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. “


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




Vassey Nursery

2424 Tacoma Road

Puyallup, WA 98371





3310 N. Proctor

Tacoma, WA 98407




The Barn Nursery

9510 Old Highway 99 SE

Olympia, WA 98501




Gardenmeister Plant Shop

16015 81st Ave Ct. E.

Puyallup, WA 98375


Pre-planted Bulbs, Thrilling Pots and “Foliage First”

March/April Dirty Dan 2017

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”

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


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.


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 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



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”

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.

IMG_4950 (1)

Rudbeckia…one of the bloomin’ fools…

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.

Mojito Mints are for Containers and “The Herb Lovers Spa Book” is for Your Pleasure

The Good Herb



Climate change is making container grown herbs easier than ever. Take Mint!









Garden mint is a thug not to be believed. Plant mint on the North side of the house and it will soon travel to the South side whether you want it to or not. Mint is the perfect herb for a container…all by itself. The two most commonly grown mints are spearmint (less minty than other mints, loaded with health benefits and best for tea and Mojitos) and peppermint (the “minty-est “ of all and most used in candy, gum and toothpaste). Spearmint and peppermint ARE the most common mints and the easiest to find but there are more than 20 species of mints out there. Pennyroyal, Corsican, pineapple, chocolate, ginger, orange, lemon, apple,…the list goes on and on. Don’t be afraid of them. Plop them in a pot, give them moisture and some shade and if nothing else, you can brush your hand over them to get the wonderful fragrance of mints. All mints smell wonderful.

But on the other hand…we have Herb Robert.

The Bad Herb

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a pervasive weed that is now on the Washington Noxious Weed list. It has pretty ferny leaves and a cute little five-petaled pink flower but it can easily take over a garden.

Geranium robertianum (Herb Robert, the thug)

Don’t be fooled by the pretty “tease” when it blooms. The good news…it has a very shallow root system and it is easy to pull out. If you’re not sure about the identification…take a whiff. It is “unpleasant” to say the least. It’s no mint.

The Herb Lover’s Spa Book”

“Every time we bring ourselves to a place of relaxation the memory preserves it”. What a wonderful thought from “The Herb Lover’s Spa Book” by Sue Goetz.

Sue Goetz is well known in the South Sound for her garden design and herb talks. It’s pretty obvious that her passion for gardening in general and herbs in particular runs deep. In “The Herb Lovers Spa Book” she posits that we can all have and deserve a special “me” space… at home. Sue gives detailed direction about how to accomplish this by asking four questions: “What will I do in the space? When will I use it most? What additions are needed to meet my needs? What would preclude my enjoyment in the space?” Once you answer these questions you have begun to create a “me” space. Then come the herbs. Sue gives you the scaled down list of the best herbs to grow for the spa recipes that follow. The ideas are straightforward and the message is clear, “Take care of yourself”. 171 pages, St. Lynn’s Press, $18.95 k2-_461a5748-2ea9-4be4-879f-16f34a24b594.v2

This one is a “feel good” keeper.

Spring, Collecting Coleus and “Fine Foliage”

Dirty Dan April/May


      It’s finally here. South Sound gardeners wait all year for this. Now is when most of our gardens really shine. Rain is plentiful, sunshine and warmer weather arrive and nurseries are full. April/May is an explosion of much appreciated color and the prelude to months of plant, sow, weed and harvest. A collective sigh.








Annuals…not a dirty word

IMG_1765 Perennials have replaced annuals in popularity for the past several years primarily because they “come back”. As perennial popularity has grown,  “annual-love” has faded. Geraniums and impatiens are the exceptions.

Now we find out the go-to shade tolerant Impatiens walleriana (the ones most commonly planted) might be hard to find this year because of a nasty disease (downy mildew) sweeping the country. Hold on! We have a new annual to take its place… “SunPatiens”. They look like the regular impatiens but have much larger flowers. “SunPatiens” grow in full sun or part shade, rain or shine from spring until frost. They come in red, pink, purple, white and orange and grow 13”-24”. These are a “must try” but not before nighttime temps stay above 40.

 Collecting Coleus

      An annual that is rivaling the crazed Heuchera collectors is the Coleus. Yes, it’s not going to “come back” but oh, the choices!  At last count more than 20 varieties are available locally but there are hundreds more out there.

Coleus have been described as kaleidoscopic and stained-glass-like because of their wild multicolored leaves. They grow in sun and part shade depending on the variety. They take moist, well-drained soil and a high nitrogen fertilizer. Much like the Heucheras, they are grown more for the foliage than the flowers. For every wild-colored Heuchera there is an equally wild-colored Coleus. The most popular Coleus are Palisandra (dark maroon), Copper Queen (rust with chartreuse edging), Limelight (bright green), Tartan (green, burgundy, cream and hot pink) and Fack (deep purple with pencil-thin green edging).

Both “SunPatiens” and Coleus are perennials in zone 10 so if you are REALLY good with houseplants, these would work.

   “Fine Foliage”fine-foliage-web-300x300

“Fine Foliage: Elegant Plant Combinations for Garden and Container” by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz is a small book with a big agenda…how to use foliage in garden design.

Have you ever admired a beautiful garden or well-planted container and thought, “what makes this so appealing?” It just looks right. Well, much of the time the secret ingredient is foliage.

Reading that you are supposed to mix texture, color and form sounds reasonable but…show me! That’s where “Fine Foliage” delivers. Examples of foliage use in containers and gardens are backed up with the “why” of foliage use as well as the what.

“Fine Foliage” is divided into 36 themed combinations for sun and 25 for shade. Each combination is supported with information about site, seasonal interest, soil requirements and zones. Beyond that Chapman and Salwitz explain why the combination works.

Across from each planting is a list of the foliage used ( genus, species and variety included) and why it works.  The combinations would be easy to repeat but the information in the book is so well presented that you’ll have plenty of confidence to do it yourself.

Authors Karen Chapman and Christinea Salwitz are local Seattle area designers.

“Fine Foliage” is $16.95, 140 pages, St. Lynn’s Press


Brugmansia, Banana Shine and “Signature of All Things”

Angel’s Trumpets Return

Wintering over plants can be way too much trouble without a greenhouse.  And frankly, there aren’t too many plants I care about enough to go to the extra effort. However, the Brugmansias or Angel’s Trumpets are different. If you have grown a Brugmansia you’ll do whatever it takes to get it to come back. It’s that beautiful.


Brugmansias are tropical looking zone 8-10 plants that grow surprisingly easy in the South Sound.  They do need winter protection though and right about now is when their winter protection is critical. Brugmansias planted in pots can be brought into the garage and watered occasionally to keep them going. If Brugmansias are planted in the ground, mulch like crazy to keep the soil from getting too cold for the roots. Even if the top dies back (and it will) there are plenty of roots underground to produce new shoots next spring. At present there are only a few varieties of Brugmansias around South Sound nurseries but they are catching on and hopefully we’ll see more varieties soon. Besides looking like something straight out of a South American jungle, the scent of the Brugmansia’s gigantic trumpet flowers rivals any summertime blooms.

Slug Time-Out

Slugs don’t have a “time out”. They’re hiding and waiting to pounce on every new little sprout ready to burst through the soil. Now is the perfect time to start putting out your favorite slug bait. It will slow down the slug population and keep bulb foliage and early perennial foliage slug free. It’s a good jumpstart for spring.

Shine On

Houseplants with thick, solid leaves can get especially dirty and dusty. Not only do they look dull, the dirt blocks sunlight and reduces photosynthesis. You can buy products especially made for cleaning houseplants or you can eat a banana. Use the banana peel to wipe off the leaves.  Then the leaves will be clean, shiny and loaded with potassium.

 “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert

When “Eat, Pray, Love” author, Elizabeth Gilbert, recently discovered a love for gardening she knew that her next book had to have a narrative that spoke about her new hobby. “The Signature of All Things”, is a not a memoir like Gilbert’s other books; this one is a novel of historical fiction.


The 500-page epic revolves around a plant savvy family, the Whittakers, who are dedicated botanists in the 19th century. The story spans decades and crosses continents. The main character is Alma Whittaker, a composite of several 19th century women botanists. Botany, like all the other sciences in the 19th century, was male dominated. Men practiced the science of botany and women practiced the science of  “polite botany”. Same thing…different names.  Alma is the “polite botanist” and her field is bryology, the study of mosses.

Joseph Banks, Captain Cook and Charles Darwin are just a few of the names that figure into the story. Gilbert weaves history and horticulture into a book that any gardener will find fascinating. It’s about time somebody included America’s #1 hobby in a well-written novel.

Cutting Back, Alliums and “Well-Tempered Garden”

To Cut Back or Not to Cut Back…



Undoubtedly a garden looks tidier if you dispose of  autumn’s fading vegetation but unless the offending ugliness is concentrated in the front yard and “neatnik” is your middle name there is no real need to denude the final flush of flora. (too much alliteration?)

Consider this…unless the bygone planting is in the front yard…who’ll see it? It’s dark!

True, disposing of disintegrating perennials and raking up leaves in flowerbeds does eliminate some slug hideouts. They’re still overwintering, they just have fewer places to hide.  But removing those hideouts, the growing season’s stems and leaves, winter’s natural insulation is also removed. Crowns of perennials can be exposed to the elements. And just that little bit of cleanup can expose borderline hardy plants enough to kill them.

Removing the natural insulation before winter is also much more time consuming  since stems are likely still attached even if they have quit growing. Waiting until late winter or early spring makes cleanup a breeze. It takes a fraction of the time. Just be gentle around the green spikes of spring bulbs. Less time, lower maintenance.

Not Tonight Deer

When October bulb-planting time rolls around (you know, rainy and cold) there is no shortage of tulips (common name “deer food”) and daffodils. ‘Lips and Daffs are much loved and much grown in the South Sound but it’s always fun to add something new.

Get to know some alliums (common name ‘ornamental onions’ but who’d buy that?) Since alliums are in the onion family, “most” deer and squirrels steer clear. Alliums are known as “deer resistant”. (Ask anybody with a deer problem and they’ll tell you that “deer proof” is a big joke).

So, try a few of the beautiful alliums instead of the same old tulips and daffodils. Alliums come in all sizes and are among the most carefree bulbs to grow. Allium come short in shades of yellow, pink and white or tall in shades of pink, purple and lavender.  The most impressive alliums are the big ones. They look like gigantic purple Tootsie Roll Pops.

Allium christophii

Allium christophii

The largest and earliest is Allium christophii (Star of Persia). The stem is 1-2 feet tall and the lavender fireworks-like flower can be 20” in diameter. Unbelievable!

Allium giganteum globemaster is up to 4 feet tall with flowers 6” in diameter and blooms in mid to late spring.

Allium aflatunense ‘purple sensation’  is 3’ tall with 4” flowers and blooms in late to early summer.

These three alliums are the easiest to find. Because of their size, you don’t need dozens to make a statement. One bulb per square foot is plenty. Stagger-plant them among perennials so when the perennials are in that not-quite-ready-to-bloom stage you still have plenty of color.

“The Well-Tempered Garden”

The late British plantsman, Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006), is probably the most widely read garden writer in modern history. His book, “The Well-Tempered Garden”, is a book he wrote more than 40 years ago and is still considered a gardening “bible” by today’s most avid gardeners.

It’s not easy to write a best selling gardening book with such longevity, especially one without pictures…one that not only holds your attention but also makes you smile at any page you open. Each page teaches and tickles. Lloyd’s wryly-delivered gardening advice is not outdated. Far from it. His information is the kind that doesn’t change with time and the opinions he offers are backed up with a lifetime of gardening experience.

“The Well Tempered Garden” is in its fourth printing and deserves a permanent place in any South Sound gardener’s library, right next to the Sunset Western Garden Book.