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: 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

Pre-planted Bulbs, Thrilling Pots and “Gardening with Foliage First” by Salwitz and Chapman


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” by Judith M. Taylor


Fortunate South Sound Gardeners 

      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.

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.

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” by Tovah Martin


Amaryllis-in-a-Box

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.

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Instant gardening gratification for less than $10!


Sasanqua-in-a-Pot

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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

Growing Hosta from Seed and Book Review: “The Triumph of 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…


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.IMG_4162     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!

“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.02b9f459390ae3332af708bdd6a67871

“Seeds” by Thor Hanson, $26.99, 250 pages, www.thorhanson.net