Being Green, Go Bananas and Green Fingers

picture-2 It’s Not Easy Being Green

     For the next few months, every nursery in Puget Sound will be bursting at the seams with color; but this year it’s all about foliage. It’s high time.  Foliage breaks up the monotony of blinding color and helps set off those really choice plants. Ivies (they’re not all weeds) are a good place to start. Then check out Italian ginger (Arum), Bear’s Breeches (Acanthus), Tiarellas, Epimediums and all the terrific Hostas. Think texture instead of color. After all, you see the green a lot longer than you do the flowers.

 Spare Time

     Plant nuts don’t have much spare time in spring. We’re out of hibernation and into the back yard knee deep in new ideas. Work, work, work. Give yourself a “timeout” and try to do a few garden tours. They’re everywhere. A good garden tour is like a mini vacation. Those brave people who show  their gardens deserve special awards and a lifetime supply of Advil. What a commitment!

 Green Fingers

In England, if you’re a good gardener you have “greenfingers” instead of a “green thumb”. There’s a quirky British movie called “Greenfingers” about a group of prison inmates who are allowed to set up a display garden at the famous Chelsea Flower Show in London. It’s really funny and the story is true. It’s a 2001 movie so you’ll have to rent it or, even better, buy it. You’ll want to pass it around.

 Go Bananas

     Sometimes the thought of organic gardening sounds like one great frat party…beer for slugs, Jack Daniels for insects and stale wine for fruit flies. The remedies sound a little far-fetched but some of them work. A long time organic gardener in South Tacoma swears by bananas. He throws the peeling on his roses and has almost eliminated black spot.  Scientific proof may be missing but it certainly won’t hurt anything.

 Drive Your Nursery Person Crazy

     Ask for Astilbe “Color Flash”, a new astilbe with tri-color foliage. It starts out green then matures to rich burgundy and purple. Fall color is even better. It changes to gold, orange and russet. There might not be many of these but they’re worth the extra search effort. They have pale pink flowers but it’s the foliage that makes them unique.

Live, Blue Poppy, Live!!!

     It isn’t patience as much as sheer stubbornness that makes us want to get the  Himalayan blue poppies to come back after the first year. Take heart. It IS possible. Plant  it in part shade, ring it with slug bait, fertilize in the summer,  keep it moist and ring it with slug bait again. Slugs will bypass everything else in the garden and make a beeline for  the blue poppy. I’m convinced it’s because they know how much the blue poppy costs. 

     The key to the “return of the blue poppy” is keeping it dry in the winter. Cover it with a terra cotta pot when the rains start. The pot protects it from too much rain but still lets a little in through the drain hole. Use terra cotta because it won’t blow away in the windstorms.

     And, as far as the “pinch the first year’s bloom off” theory…I talked to 3 growers (there are precious few growers) and they all said the same thing. Don’t do it! If you pinch off the bloom the first year you may have lost your only chance to see a bloom. Blue poppies are variable. Not all of them will turn out to be perennials.. Some may not have the genetics to come back no matter what you do, so why miss that beautiful blue flower!

Blame Linnaeaus

     Carl Linnaeus is the one responsible for classifying botanical names in gardening. When anyone corrects your plant pronunciation just remind them that Carl was a Swedish man in the 1700’s who wrote in Latin. Remember that game called “telephone”? After a few words went through about a half dozen people, the words come out completely different. If six people can’t keep the same words going just imagine what 250 years of people have done to Linnaeaus’ words.  It’s amazing we even come close.

 Column reprinted with permission, Premier Media Group, South Sound Magazine, Tacoma, WA