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

 

     

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.

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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.

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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. 

The Tool Shed: Nejiri Gama Hoe


The Japanese Nejiri Gama Hoe cuts through the top bit of soil to scrape off shallow rooted weeds and mosses. The whole idea behind the scraper is to only go deeply enough to scrape away roots from weeds like chickweed, shotweed and shallow grasses.

NEJIRI GAMA HOE FROM JAPAN has been a bestseller for 30 years. and it’s only $14.

According to Google the literal translation of  Nejiri Gama means “torsion spring”. I guess it is a little “springy”. You grab it and scrape it over the soil. The beauty of the shallow weeding is…you don’t pull up, stir up and mix up weed seeds down below. Cultivating to get rid of weeds pulls up the roots but it also pulls up the weed seeds and gives them a good start.

Nejiri Gama Hoes come in right and left handed versions and are now popular enough to be manufactured by many companies including Dutch and Japanese manufacturers. Stick with those. Others are sad knockoffs. They come in short handles and some that are

DUTCH LEFT HANDED NEJIRI HOE Good for long raised beds and under shrubs.

LONG HANDLED NEJIRI GAMA HOE FROM JAPAN The long handled version of the Nejiri Hoe from Japan

about 18″ long for a longer reach. You can also get a long handled stand-up version but I have found that the angle is all wrong when the handle is long and you’re standing up.

They start at about $14 and go up from there.

 

The Tool Shed: Bachi Hoe and Hoso Hoe

The Japanese Bachi Gata Hoe breaks up soil and gets rid of any political frustrations that might be lingering. It is not light weight, The heavy part is on the business end and the down stroke digs deep. The weight of it does all the work. Lighter weight hoes rely on arm strength. The Bachi Gata Hoe relies on its heft.

Let’s see…chop up difficult clay soil, glide through normal soil, plant bulbs, make furrows, weed and plant and grow your triceps!

Like many of the Japanese tools, the Bachi Gata began is a traditional farmer’s tool. The fact that it is still used means it must be good. 15 1/2″ long with a 3″x5″ head

If you need something a little narrower and longer then the Japanese Hoso Hoe works. It slices deeper  in narrower spaces. I keep reading that this is a “one hand” hoe…uh, yeah.  15 1/2″, a 2″x7″ head

TMI: References to a hoe appeared in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. The hoe has changed with the times, from stone to wood to copper, bronze, iron and steel. It was considered worth stealing in Colonial times. Hoes were a valuable and prized tool for Colonists. They were needed and stealing one was like stealing a horse. (almost)

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

The Tool Shed: The Hori Hori Story

A  collection of Hori Hori knives has been forced upon one of my gardening friends. She has composted, lost or thrown away an embarrassing number of them, so many of them that she tries to always have a spare.

So, what’s the big deal with Hori Hori’s? First of all, they have been around forever in Japan as a go-to farmer’s knife so it is obviously functional.  How do you use it? The list is endless…

1. Transplant bedding plants and large seedlings

2. Cut heavy roots for stump removal

3. Plant bulbs for spring or summer

4.  Make furrows for seed starting

5. Dig out tap roots from weeds like dandelions

6. Harvest root crops like leek, carrots and beets

7. Loosen soil to get ready to plant

8. Bonsai collecting

9. Hunting and fishing tool (?)

10. Metal detecting tool

Deciding which Hori Hori to buy is pretty simple. Stay away from the knock-offs. The most durable Hori Hori’s  are Japanese. Then there are 4 good choices; Long and Short Handled Carbon Steel and Short and  Mini Stainless Steel.

If you are gardening in a lot of mud, it’s worth getting the Stainless Steel Hori Hori. Mud slides off stainless steel blades. Stainless steel can still rust if not maintained. Stainless steel is hard and does not keep a sharp edge as long and is a softer material. Good for bulb planting since the mud slides off. Bulb planting can be a muddy, sloppy job.12 1/4″

Otherwise, the Carbon Steel Hori Hori is just fine. I live in a rainy area and I’m fine with Carbon Steel. It will rust if you don’t clean and dry it but it stays sharper longer. It is hard and wear resistant.11 1/2″

383-1The Long Handled Hori Hori  is Carbon Steel and adds a few inches to make reaching easier. It is helpful in raised beds. Carbon Steel blades stay sharper longer and are harder and more resistant to heavy use. 14 1/2″

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 7.58.49 PM The Mini Hori Hori has a stainless steel blade and is more comfortable for smaller hands and smaller jobs.  It’s great for planting minor bulbs like Crocus, Grape Hyacinths and Snowdrops. Mud and wet soil slides off so it’s especially good for the small bulb planting.10″1061-1.gif