‘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.

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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




Skip the Gym and Dig in the Dirt

Since I’m lazy by nature and the only real exercise I get is gardening, I was SO happy to see this little infogram on Pinterest and Facebook. I don’t know who posted it first but it was on FB a gazillion times so I don’t think I’m in trouble for putting it here. When I saw this I grew a gigantic grin. Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 2.00.52 PM

So…To begin with…here are some gardening tools for triceps. 

Daffs, Moss Wars and Moss Gardening

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.


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.

222 pages, Timber Press

More Reviews Here

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



Slimeless Ferns, Horsetail Woes and “Guide to Ferns”

“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.


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.


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.


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


Puddling Leeks, Sex in the Garden and Building Healthy Soil

Puddling Leeks

January is the earliest month to start spring vegetable and flower seeds indoors for transplanting in April. Start herbs like Basil, Chives, Parsley, Oregano and Thyme. Annual seeds like Zinnias, Marigolds and Geraniums and perennials like Rudbeckias, Poppies and daisy types can be started now too.

2014-04-26 03.16.07Start onion seeds like Walla Walla, Spanish and Evergreen Bunching. Leeks can be started now to be “puddled” in early spring. “Puddling” is making a very deep hole (about 8”) with a tool handle or a dibble, drop in the single leek transplant to the bottom of the hole and fill the hole with water. Don’t backfill with soil. The soil will settle on its own around the leek transplants. The deeply planted winter leeks will have nice long white ends when you harvest it sometime in the fall. Winter Leeks have a very long growing period.

Here’s a link to a good UK site with a step by step of how to grow leeks. http://www.love2learnallotmenting.co.uk/how-to-grow-leeks


Sex in the Garden

b“Pollinators” are birds, bees, butterflies, beetles, wind, rain, your sleeve, your hand…you get the picture. A pollinator carries pollen from a flower’s male anther to its female stigma. A “pollinizer” is the plant that provides the pollen. Sex in the garden.

Pollinators are necessary for our food supply, bees in particular. By now we all know that the bee populations are in big trouble. Their decline is blamed on viruses, pesticides and GMO’s but nobody really has a definitive answer about the honeybees’ disappearance. We CAN do something in our own yards to help save and increase the local bee populations. It’s simple. Plant flowers that attract honeybees. Now is a good time to start planning for those flowering plants for next spring and summer. Why plan now? Planning for gardening in the warmer seasons makes these short dark days a little brighter.

To get started…IMG_4713

Bees cannot see red but they do see blue, yellow and ultraviolet. This past summer I noticed that Oregano, Lavender and Snapdragon flowers drew honeybees into my yard like crazy. Honeybees like little irregular flower tubes. Add any of these bee magnets and the bee population in your garden will increase. If these pollen-laden bee-attracting plants are grown in the best soil possible, we have a win win. Well-grown pollinizers attract great pollinators.


“Building Soil” by Elizabeth Murphy

No matter how you dress it, “soil” in a title isn’t likely to draw much excitement. And yet, soil is the most important component of any garden. Without the right soil mixture you might as well forget the whole thing and landscape with concrete. Good soil is important. Good soil saves plants and in turn saves money.

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“Building Soil” by Elizabeth Murphy (March 2015) is a complete “how to” for the home gardener: how to know what soil you have, how to improve your soil and how to maintain soil health and make it sustainable. Sustainable soil is soil that is healthy enough to take care of itself. Learn everything about compost, mulches, fertilizing, water movement and cultivation. Everything associated with healthy garden soil is covered in depth and with a bit of humor. Consider it a necessary garden reference book.

“Building Soil: Natural Solutions for Better Gardens and Yards” is practical and understandable…and it has pictures!


Cool Springs Press 200 pages $22.99



Premeditated Gardening, Hosta Seed and “Seeds” by Thor Hanson

 Premeditated Gardening

       That’s what many gardeners practice (and we know who we are), “premeditated gardening”. We think ahead. We plan because planning is a compulsion. Let’s call it Obsessive Compulsive Gardening. It begins in about June when we ridiculously start planning for next spring even though this spring is barely over. “Next year I’m going to move that over there and that over there but then I’ll need to fill in that spot, possibly take down that maple to get more sun, maybe try a small water garden in a pot and divide and move those daylilies”. It goes on and on. We’re in Gardening Mode. It strikes at any time. October and November it does tend to slow down though. But even with the rain and shorter days you can still keep your gardening on by starting some seeds now. Spring seed starting is too frenetic. Autumn seed starting has a slower pace. You can really pay attention to the process of getting seeds to germinate and grow. Take Hosta…

Mouse Ears 1

Hosta Overload

Right about now, if you (or your neighbor) decided not to deadhead the spent flowers on Hosta plants you will have ripe Hosta seeds, suitable for replanting. Collect the seeds when they are black. That means the Hosta seeds are ripe and viable. Plant all of them in case germination is erratic. You don’t need special equipment, you can start them in the house and they germinate in about two weeks.20140520_183432

Almost all of the Hosta that we buy now are hybrids. The seed you grow from a hybrid won’t look like the original plant. It won’t come true. It will be a Hosta surprise! No two alike. Each Hosta will vary in leaf color, shape and size. This is a great project for the slower pace of autumn.

.  Growing Hosta from seed is very easy. No wonder there are so many Hosta varieties available! Of course, there is a homegrown youtube all about it.

“The Triumph of Seeds” by Thor Hanson

I really thought this was going to be a “how to” book about growing seeds. Not even close. It is far more. ”Seeds” is about the history and science surrounding the stories of grains, nuts, pulses, kernels and pips. If you like the Michael Pollan book, “Botany of Desire” and Mark Kurlansky’s book, “Salt”, you’ll love “The Triumph of Seeds” by Dr. Thor Hanson, conservation biologist and author of “Feathers” and “The Impenetrable Forest”.

Dr. Hanson begins “Seeds” with the importance of a particular seed grown in our own backyard, wheat. The enormous amount of wheat grown in Washington’s Palouse and shipped along the Snake and Columbia rivers has made this river route the third busiest grain corridor in the world…feeding millions of the world’s people.

Hanson shows how seed history has always been tied up with political, economic and human history. He points out the fascinating connections.

“Seeds” is filled with plenty of anecdotes about Hanson’s scholarly efforts to learn more about the seed world. It isn’t too “sciencey”. It’s just right. For instance, Hanson explains that there is a technical name for the dispersal of seed, endozoocory. Then he quickly follows with “We scientists have a great fondness for mash-ups in dead languages”. Science and a sense of humor make “Seeds” a good read for anybody interested in the plant world.


Hanson lives in Washington but his field of biology has taken him all over the world. He takes us for a nature-rich ride while he shares the curious importance of the relationships of seeds to everything from rats to Christopher Columbus.“Seeds” by Thor Hanson, $26.99, 250 pages, www.thorhanson.net

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.

Pacific Northwest Goes the “Full Mediterranean”

Sage-ish Advice

     August and September are typically warm and dry in the South Sound. However, this year it has been mostly hot and dry since June. It  has been more like Sorrento than the South Sound. Now we can truly boast about our Mediterranean climate. Plants like rosemary, lavender and sage thrive.

Dark green-leaved Rosemary ‘Arp’, silvery-leaved Lavender ‘Silver Frost’ and the wide leaves of gray ornamental sage, Salvia ‘Berggarten’ make a good combination. Throw in a couple of potted red geraniums in terra cotta pots, grab a good book and have a glass of Washington wine. Enjoy our extended new Mediterranean climate.

Midsummer GoldenRAIN Tree

That’s Golden RAIN tree, not Golden CHAIN tree…why these beautiful trees aren’t grown more, I’ll never know. Koelreuteria paniculata (easier to grow than to say) is blooming now. It has panicles of fragrant yellow flowers and ash-like leaves. The medium sized tree grows in zones 5-9 in full sun or a little shade. That means it’s perfect for the South Sound. The best part about the tree is the fruit that eventually swells into little pink balloons. They make a popping sound when you step on them. Kids love it. Popping fruit may not be the BEST reason to grow this too rarely grown tree but it helps. You can see one up close in Tacoma at S. 11th and Tacoma Ave S. or E. 26th St. near Freighthouse Square. Stunning trees.Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 8.19.45 PM











  “How Plants Work” by Linda Chalker-Scott

Linda Chalker-Scott is our local “mythbuster”. Reading her earlier books, “The Informed Gardener” and “The Informed Gardener Blooms Again”, gives you a sense of Chalker-Scott’s mission…to set us all straight about the science behind our gardening questions…nothing is anecdotal. All of the information in “How Plants Work” is backed up by scientific research.

If you follow The Garden Professors on Facebook you will recognize the Chalker-Scott name. Advice and answers are “no nonsense” to say the least.

“How Plants Work” is Chalker-Scott’s referential science for gardeners book. Just like in her previous books, she debunks many of the commonly held “facts” but supports others. She names names and explains why some of the more popular home gardening methods and products simply don’t work.

Along with setting us straight about our long held and at times totally false beliefs about Unknowngardening the author provides some very understandable layman’s lessons in home gardening botany. She explains the science behind plant growth, water movement, light importance, night bloomers, twining and vining and more.

You know those sensitive plants? You touch a leaf and it folds up? That’s “thigmonasty”. Oh…the things you’ll learn…Timber Press, $19.95, 220 p.





“I Don’t Do Orange” meh!

IMG_4597At the risk of sounding judgmental…when I hear a gardener saying, “I don’t do orange” (and I just did), I worry. For some reason, the color orange is one of those embedded harbingers of “bad taste” that has no real basis. The sunsets and sunrises are a beautiful shade of orange, sherbet is a translucent orange, southern gardens are filled with the smell of orange blossoms, Mimosas are filled with tasty orange juice and the orange flavor of Grand Marnier can turn a ho-hum dinner entrée into something extraordinary. So, what’s wrong with orange in the garden? A few hot colors in an otherwise pale garden bring the landscape to life. They add spark. Having been around an “anti-orange”
segment of gardeners for quite awhile, I almost succumbed to their discrimination of orange and then…I took a trip to the United Kingdom and all my prejudices melted away. That summer I saw gaudy nasturtiums that made me smile, crocosmia that brought brightness to overcast days and impatiens that set off all the plants that surrounded them. I am a convert to orange.