Sophia’s Garden Tools

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


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


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


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

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

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




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.

‘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




A Begonia that Looks Like a Palm Tree

I was out in the garden doing my fall cleanup before summer is even over. Our gardening season has been unusual to say the least. Here in the South Puget Sound it has been hot, hotter and hottest since May, highly unusual.  Thankfully we’re on the side of the mountains without wildfires but the smoke from them is drifting to our side of the mountains and covering the sun enough to make an eery rose-colored light. The whole summer has been eery. The weather requires a new plant care learning curve.

We have been moving these Brugmansias in and out of the house for 4 years and they’re too large now but I found out that they will live through the winter if you just mulch them.


Pink Ecuador

                              Brugmansia ‘Pink Ecuador’


        I call this one Brugmansia ‘It was supposed to be red’


Really cool cutting from friend, Erik. Begonia luxurians. I guess it isn’t hardy so I have to bring it inside but it gets big really fast and looks very much like a palm tree.

My absolute favorite new (for me) plant this year was Crocosmia ‘Miss Scarlett’. I had planted it 2 years ago and it didn’t bloom so I put it in more sun and it has been spectacular. It bloomed later than other Crocosmias and is a beautiful dark red with a shaded lighter eye. The best part is the foliage. It isn’t floppy. It stands straight, needs no support and has a pretty bluish cast. From the way it’s growing I don’t think it will be invasive, just spread slowly. It’s stunning.

Crocosmia 'Miss Scarlett'

                           Crocosmia ‘Miss Scarlett’


Bartlett Pears were not only a bumper crop this year, they are clean and without any disease or bugs. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have rain.


And lastly…my first Eucomis, E. ‘Rhode Island Red’ from Windcliff. They were planted all over the place there and were so beautiful. I had no idea the leaves collapsed.

Who Needs Lavender and Salpiglossis?

I keep wondering if this summer is going to be the second in a row of our new “normal” summers here in the PNW. Everyone agrees that we’re more than a month ahead of schedule for heat loving plants. And some of the usual spring bloomers came and went pretty fast. Our summer started back in May and my garden and I are confused. Where is our rain?

Lavender Harvesting

I usually cut lavender in July when it’s in tight bud but this year some of the lavender already has wide open flowers, not the best time to cut it if you want to use them for decoration like wands. It’s much better to cut lavender  when it’s still in closed bud. Evidently there are early, midseason and late blooming lavenders so I still have some in tight bud if I get ambitious.  I have learned to hang the tight budded ones upside down for a few days to keep the stem and flower spikes straight. I have discovered a good use for the lavender stems that are in full bloom. I strip the wide open flowers from the stems, put the flowers on a newspaper for a few days to dry. Then I put the dry lavender flowers in a pillowcase and tie it off. Leave plenty of room for the lavender to be tossed around because you now have a new dryer sheet that will last for months. And your clothes smell really fresh. I leave it in the dryer.


                 Flowering and Budding Lavender Harvest


Salpiglossis sinuata 

If there was one annual that I wish more people would find and grow, it’s Salpiglossis. I started growing it a few years ago because of a picture I saw on a package of Ed Hume Seeds. It’s also called Stained Glass Flower and Painted Tongue. The flowers look like rich velvet and come in every color including kiwi green. I only saw that once and I have a witness. I don’t see Salpiglossis for sale everywhere but it is possible to find the plants. You just won’t find flats and flats of them. Do a search online and look at all the crazy colors. Mine were growing next to a lupine that was thick with gray adult aphids. The Salpiglossis wasn’t bothered. I brought it in as a cut flower and it still looks fresh after 4 days.

Salpiglossis plants are pretty easy to grow from seed. They should be started inside in early March. We started them in April, a little late. But because of the early spring heat, the seed grown ones are ready to bloom. They’re just a couple of weeks behind the plants I bought. They are seriously beautiful annuals. I’m beginning to like annuals again. Maybe it’s some kind of horticultural progression…(or regression).

Part of the mix of Salpiglossis senate

                       Part of the mix of Salpiglossis sinuata

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.