September in the Garden and “A Way to Garden”

     Truth be told…For South Sound gardeners, September/October is just as welcome as May/June. Both mini seasons transition us from extreme to milder temperatures and, as a result, give us renewed “garden brain” energy. Herbaceous perennials in particular get a year’s head start by dividing, planting and transplanting now.

     Time to ponder, prepare and plan.

 Ponder Your Garden’s Successes

      It’s always a good idea to take stock of what worked and what didn’t work. Observing things like, “Did the Rosemary languish or thrive? Should I really have surrounded a fertilizer hungry, thirsty rose with a Portulaca that thrives in poor dry soil? or “I had no idea I was such a talented colorist”. (You never know.)      


      If you’re a list maker, try writing down what you observe but if you’re more visual (like most of us), take a 3 minute September/October video to refresh your memory for next May/June when you wonder what you planted. Having some kind of record helps…

Prepare for What Comes Next

The Fall Cleanup…it isn’t for everybody. For instance, in perennial gardens neatness may not count. The tendency is to cut back everything and pick up every leaf but that’s not always the best thing to do. There are two schools of thought.

     First thought:  Armed with pruners and a big bucket, cut back every summer perennial to the ground, carefully clean up around them and rake up leaves. Your garden looks tidy. You are a happy, tidy gardener. You probably lowered the slug population and if you have any diseased plants, cleaning up like this really helps.

     On second thought: Back off! This is by far the easiest and laziest method. Just let the herbaceous perennials die back naturally. The left alone seedheads feed songbirds, the decaying leaves and stems protect the crowns from any future freezes and also mark where you planted them in the first place. When you wait until early spring to clean up beds, it’s a snap. Everything has pretty much disintegrated. All you need to clean up is a rake and that bucket…shortly followed by your favorite beverage and a good book like…

“A Way to Garden” by Margaret Roach

If you’re one of the bazillions of people hooked on podcasts you might recognize the book title. “Away to Garden” is also a popular weekly garden podcast by Margaret Roach, former editorial director for Martha’s Omnimedia. She chucked it all and moved to the country.

     She calls herself a woo-woo gardener but her book that guides you through seasonal gardening is filled with practicality. 

     She speaks softly on her interview heavy podcast which comes through in her book. She is a gentle writer who shares real garden experiences about her journey from corporation to country garden. It’s a how-to and memoir along with solid and carefully thought out garden advice with a touch of “woo woo” thrown in.  

Timber Press, 320 p. $30

Sweet Casa Blanca Lilies, Spicy Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ and “Month-by-Month Gardening in the Pacific Northwest”

This particular South Sound summer feels like a big reward for slogging through one of the coolest, wettest springs on record. Never has “that’s what makes Washington green” been more of an eyeroller. We know! We know! We had a lot of rain!

     You know that earthy smell after a good rain? It has a weather name, “Petrichor”. July and August replace that earthy smell with…


Sweet Casa Blancas

Casa Blanca lilies are forced into bloom for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in February and they are a good “hook” to get you to buy the bulbs for your own garden. Their strong, sweet fragrance is irresistible. They’re blooming right now in the South Sound. Their flowers are a pure white and can be 10 inches across. They grow 4 feet tall in full sun and fast draining native soil.

         Cut them and bring them inside for sweet natural air freshener but make sure you remove the dark stamens. Lilies last longer and look tidier when the pollen-laden stamens are gently removed. Pollen smudges are notoriously difficult to eliminate from both clothes and nose.

     Nurseries sell the bulbs already planted in case you missed the bulbs at the NWFGS in February. Hurry though… Casa Blanca are the first to go. They’re that good.

     Honeysuckle, gardenia, heirloom and English roses and nicotiana are more good choices on the sweet side of fragrance. But not everyone likes sweetness so we also have…


Spicy Dianthus ‘Firewitch’

Dianthus is the “chai tea” of flowers with its unmistakable cinnamon-clove-like spicy scent. Dianthus includes pinks, carnations and sweet William. There are more than 300 different varieties so finding one to suit your needs should be no problem even if you’re looking for groundcover.

     Dianthus gratianopolitanus, Cheddar Pink, is a low growing matting groundcover that is literally smothered with spicy flowers all summer. Cheddar Pinks like full sun and fast draining soil. They are especially good in rock gardens or near rock and concrete walls because they like neutral to alkaline soil. Pinks are long lasting and if you want more take cuttings now to increase your mats. ‘Firewitch’ is the easiest to grow and easiest to find and ‘Tiny Rubies’ takes first place in “smallest and sweetest”.

     The springtime scramble is to get everything planted. The summertime scramble is to keep everything alive. Sometimes a guide is called for…


“Month-by-Month Gardening in the Pacific Northwest”

Finally! We have a comprehensive guide to gardening just for us! Garden guides need to be specific to the area and since a majority of the large publishing houses tend to be back east, many of the gardening manuals concentrate more on their climate and their growing conditions. A majority of garden authors are from the Atlantic side too. But we’re gaining ground. We have knowledgeable garden voices from the Pacific side.

     Christina Pfeiffer and Mary Robson, author/consultants, of the “Month-by-Month Gardening in the Pacific Northwest” are both Washingtonians who live and garden here. They know their stuff.

     The no nonsense guide by Pfeiffer and Robson serves an avid gardeners most important goal. It prevents you from wasting your precious gardening time. It hones in on the most important jobs and gives you confidence to complete them because the information is thorough and current. It isn’t a coffee table book; it’s one that you’ll use.

   Cool Springs Press, $24.99, 200 pages of solid information.

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. 

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,


Begonia luxurians “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

Nothing About Gardening

I’m greatly relieved. Being female and from the 60’s and American I have some shame connected with the “conspicuous consumption” label that often stereotypically follows Americans.  That shame is no longer there. I’m currently hooked on a cable HGTV show called “House Hunters International” which follows cross- cultural moves and house hunts all over the world and I have discovered that Americans are no more conspicuously consumptive than anybody else. As a matter of fact, after carefully “studying” (off work for 2 months) the house buyers in House Hunters International, it looks like people are pretty much the same everywhere. The wealthy homebuyers are very particular and the middle-income homebuyers are very grateful.

In the same vein…and still hooked on House Hunters and House Hunters International…Remodelers!  Get ready for steady work . All the prospective house buyers now looking for homes are insistent on these four things: stainless steel kitchen appliances, granite countertops, hardwood floors, and an “OPEN CONCEPT”.

They envision “Martha Moments” with happy, quiet children watching videos in the media section while the adults belly up to the granite island with their oversized wine glasses, engaging the cook in meaningful conversation as she chops, cuts and bakes.

Are they nuts??????  Fun  and reward in “entertaining” in one big room?  Really?  It sounds like a recipe for disaster.

REAL-LIFE-CHECK! The “entertaining” idea will last about as long as a new video game. Then you will discover:

1. Guests eat, drink and leave dirty dishes.

2. Kids get bored and the older they get, the less they want to be with adults.

3. Stainless steel appliances stay gorgeous if you polish them every day.

4. Everybody looking at the cook is not necessarily a good thing.

5. The staged “open concept” that appealed to you to begin with will suddenly take on the look of a really big room with a really big mess. You have the same mess as before but without the luxury of walls to hide the mess.

So, remodelers and renovators, be ready…soon you will be re-building walls.