Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Problem With the Privet Hedge

I never had nasal allergies until a year ago. Then, in mid-summer when everyone else's allergy symptoms were easing up, a neighbor of mine and I started having symptoms. Neither of us had ever had seasonal allergies before so it took a while to realize that was what we had. Fortunately, our symptoms were fairly mild and we were able to get relief with typical over-the-counter meds.

This year, I expected to have some problems in spring, but I was fine through all the tree and grass pollen outpourings. Then again, about a week ago, I started having symptoms. Levels of tree, grass and weed pollens are low right now and friends of mine who suffer with them are feeling much better than they did a couple of months ago. So I wondered what it is that I am sensitive to.

Yesterday I might have figured it out. I have a section of privet hedge (Ligustrum japonicum) along one side of my yard, which has just come into full bloom.
The past two springs have been particularly rainy and the hedge has responded by producing record crops of big, creamy white panicles (flowers) in mid-July. They are pretty and the bees love them, but as far as I am concerned they smell terrible. Since this hedge is close to my windows, which I have open most of the time in summer, and close to my garden, where I like to spend my time, I decided to cut off a bunch of the flowers to reduce the odor.

That helped. And after dumping a couple of buckets of blooms into the yard waste bin, I thought my nasal symptoms were eased a bit, too. I wondered then if privet pollen is something people have allergic reactions to. So I did a google search. And sure enough!

Privet pollen is known to trigger allergic reactions, asthma, eczema and hay fever. In fact, it is illegal to grow or sell privet plants in New Zealand because of the health problems it causes.

I'm not planning to take down the hedge anytime soon, but I will be a lot more diligent from now on about removing those stinky flowers as soon as they appear.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Advantages of Starting Vegetables From Seed After the Summer Solstice

Many of us have been there. We start out with great intentions. We're going to grow our own food. We have plans and tools and seed catalogs. We can almost taste the luscious vegetables we are going to harvest from our gardens.

And then stuff happens. Other things come up that require our attention. The weather is too something - hot, cold, wet, dry - and we don't get the garden planted. Or maybe we do get it planted, but our crops  "bolt," start going to seed too early, resulting in disappointing flavors and textures. So here it is, the end of June, it seems too late to start a garden and we give up on our dream of growing vegetables.

But according to Ryan, the Garden Coach at Botanical Interests (a Seattle Garden Ideas affiliate), many vegetables do better when planted now, after the summer solstice. These include: vegetables in the Brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), vegetables that form heads (lettuce, radicchio and others), and vegetables that like cooler conditions (carrots, beets, spinach, etc.)

Ryan explains why this is a good time to be sowing vegetable seeds in this article, "Second Chances." There are several factors, including day length and soil temperature, that make it likely that planting now will result in a better harvest than was possible earlier in the year. And of  course, if you need seed, Botanical Interests is an excellent source. They carry many organic and heirloom varieties. Absolutely NO GMOs.

Friday, May 18, 2012

3 Ways to Deal with Root Weevils

You know you have root weevils when you see these distinctive notches on your rhododendron leaves.

Like slugs, root weevils are nocturnal creatures. To catch them chewing on your plants, you will have to go out at night with a flashlight. In fact, some gardeners do just that. They put on rubber gloves, grab a bucket and a flashlight, and go patroling the garden, picking weevils off their rhodies.

Personally, I'm not a fan of picking bugs off of anything at any time of day. I'm also not a fan of using pesticides. So what are the alternatives?

One, do nothing. Root weevils will not kill your rhododendrons. The worst that will happen is that you will have a lot of notched leaves.

Two, do something to prevent the weevils from climbing up the branches of the plant. Root weevils can't fly. The only way they can reach the leaves is to walk up the branches. Try coating the base of the plant with something sticky like Tanglefoot. The weevils can't get past that sticky barrier and your leaves will be safe from harm.

Three, plant rhododendrons that root weevils don't like. They won't bother any rhodie with fuzz, or indumentum, under the leaves, such as members of the Rh. yakushimanum family.

Need more ideas on ways to de-bug your garden? Check out Eartheasy's article on natural garden pest control.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trapping Slugs with Beer

The slugs are out in force right about now. You don't always see them, being the nocturnal creatures that they are. But the next morning, you certainly do see the damage done to the garden.

If you are looking for a way to rid yourself of these pests without using toxic chemicals, consider installing beer traps in your garden. Slugs love beer! If you sink a container of beer into the ground so that slugs can crawl into it, they'll eagerly drown their sorrows, and themselves, in the brew. All you have to do is come by every day or so, scoop out the dead slugs and top up the beer supply.

You probably have all the "equipment" you need for making traps in your kitchen right now. A glass jar, a large empty tuna can, a plastic margarine tub - any of these will make a fine trap. Next you'll want something to use for a lid, as shown in the drawing below, that will serve as an umbrella. Then dig holes and install the containers, sinking all but the top 1/4" into the ground. (Leaving a bit of a lip exposed at the top will keep rain from running into the trap.) Now you're ready to add the beer - the cheaper the better - slugs aren't fussy.

If plying slugs with alcohol doesn't appeal to you, there are many other non-toxic ways to protect your plants from slugs. Our friends at Eartheasy have a long list of effective methods, which feature, among other things: garlic, copper strips, seaweed, coffee, or adjusting your watering habits. Click here to read the article.
Whatever method you choose, you'll be able to protect your garden without having to use toxic slug baits.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Living Salad Wall

A neighbor of mine is interested in installing a vertical garden, or living wall, to cover a concrete wall in his back yard. As he and I have been doing research and talking about this project, I've become inspired to do a little experimenting of my own.

I bought one of Bright Green's GroVert living wall planters (Amazon affiliate link) to see see how their system works. This 10-cell, polymer panel measures 8" wide, 18" tall and 4" deep. Multiple panels can be linked together to create a solid living wall.
The cells of the planter are set at a 45 degree angle to keep water and soil from falling out once the panel is mounted on the wall. Very clever! 
At the base of each cell is a "moisture mat" - another smart idea - that holds water and keeps plant roots from drying out. 

Here's the fun part - planting! I decided to fill my panel with salad greens and a few herbs. But there are lots of other possibilities, including succulents, foliage plants and annuals for sun or shade, depending on where you plan to install your vertical garden.

For my "living salad wall" I wanted lots of color and texture, plus I wanted organic starts since I plan to make salad eventually with what I've planted. So I headed to West Seattle Nursery to see what I could find. I came away with lettuces: 'Wildfire Mix,' 'Salad Bowl Red,' 'Winter Density,' a spicy mesculun mix, and endive. I also got 4" starts of cilantro, Italian parsley, French thyme and and 'Apricot Trifle' nasturtium.

I realized as I planted these that it might have been better to have planted less in each cell, and filled in with more potting soil. It is tempting, though, to do just what I did, because a 4" pony-pack fits really nicely into each cell. But no worries, I can easily revise the planting if necessary as the season progresses.

OK, with the planting done, the next step was to water thoroughly and let the panel sit at a slight angle to drain before mounting. While the panel was draining, I installed the bracket to hold the panel onto my fence.
You'll have to furnish your own fasteners. Fortunately, I had some galvanized wood screws on hand.

And here it is - my living salad wall! 

To top it off, I added an irrigator box.
This little box mounts on top of the panel and holds a quart of water. (I'm showing it here with the lid open. After adding water, you'll want to close the lid to keep dirt from getting in.) Small holes in the bottom of the box let water slowly trickle down into the planter, keeping the plants and the moisture pads irrigated. 

It will be fun to see how this works out. As with any gardening experiment, I expect some plants to do well and others will need to be replaced. If I get a few salads out of it, I'll consider it a success. Regardless, the planter and irrigator will still be around for me to use in another season. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Changing My Mind About Spirea

I've never been a fan of spirea. When I hear the name, what comes to mind is one of the big, sprawling bridal veil varieties (Spirea cantoniensis, S. prunifolia, or S. x vanhouttei). These plants produce masses of white flowers in spring that, to me, smell unpleasantly musty. I don't want to be around them.

But there is a mound form of spirea (Spirea japonica) that has won me over. There are several plants in this group, many of which stay below 3' tall, all with striking foliage. Cultivars such as 'Goldflame,' 'Goldmound,' and 'Limemound,' certainly live up to their names in the garden. I've been admiring some of these on my regular trips to the local PCC store, where they are planted in the dry stream bed garden out front.
Here you see examples of what I assume are either 'Goldmound' or 'Goldflame' in the PCC garden.

So it happened that yesterday I was working in a corner of my yard that I haven't been happy with for a while. Most of the plants work well together, but there's a spot where nothing has quite fit or been able to thrive. I took out the plants that weren't working and weeded the bed. While I worked, I thought about what might fill in that area and pull it all together. Then I headed up to West Seattle Nursery for more inspiration. Here's what I came home with:
This is Spirea japonica 'Magic Carpet,' a Pacific Northwest Great Plant Pick. It will hold this yellow/chartreuse color all season and will have pink flowers in summer. This vivid foliage, edged with bits of bronze, red and coral, appears to be lit from within. Mature size will be about 2' x 2'. 

I've planted it next to 'Red Fred' heather. We'll see how they get along. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Starting Basil From Seed

If you've ever tried to grow basil here, you know that it isn't fond of our cool, maritime Northwest climate. Plants set out in May often sulk, refuse to grow - and then die. I used to work at a local nursery and watch customers come in week after week to buy basil plants to replace the ones they lost the week before. We recommended cloches and bringing plants in at night until temperatures warmed, but that advice fell on deaf ears. Visions of pesto, bruschetta, and caprese salads got in the way, and plants went into the ground much too early.

All that said, it is possible to grow basil successfully in Seattle. If you get seedlings started indoors in mid- to late April, they will be ready for transplanting in early June when the soil has finally warmed up.

It is easy to do this. All you need is a sunny windowsill, some potting soil, a container for the soil - an empty egg carton will work just fine - and some seed.

The fun part is the seed! You generally always have more varieties to choose from in seeds, for any type of plant, than you will find when you buy seedlings already started. Growers can afford to grow what they believe they can sell, and they aren't too willing to try exotic varieties. You, however, have options.

Take a look at this list of basil varieties from Botanical Interests (a Seattle Garden Ideas affiliate). You can choose from lemon basil, lime basil, purple basil, Thai basil, Italian basil, Greek basil, plus organic and heirloom blends. Imagine the possibilities!

It will take about 4-6 weeks for your seedlings to be ready to plant outside. You will need to harden the seedlings off - meaning that you gradually acclimate them to being outside. One way to do this is to cover them with a floating row cover, like reemay fabric, after you plant them. The fabric will keep the plants from being sunburned during the day and hold heat in overnight. After a few days, you can remove the fabric and the plants should be hardy enough to thrive.

So there you have it - everything you need to know about getting basil to grow in Seattle. Enjoy!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Skagit Valley is home to the largest commercial flower bulb growing operations in the US. These companies host the annual Tulip Festival, which runs the entire month of April. Hundreds of acres of colorful bloom make this a popular event for both gardeners and photographers.

Row upon row of daffodils provide the warm-up act for the colorful show
of tulip blooms to come at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
The exact bloom time of the tulip fields depends on the weather. This year's long winter and cool temperatures mean that the blooms will open a bit later this month than they have in other years. But don't let that slow you down. Start planning your trip now by visiting the Festival website. There you will find a map of the gardens, information about the growers, things to do and places to see. Plan on making a day of it and be sure to bring a camera. This is a wonderful outing for the whole family.

For a preview of what you'll see, including stunning photos of unusual tulip varieties, watch this video created by Travelingrandma. Gorgeous!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Euphoric Over Euphorbia

Euphorbia characias wulfenii
OK, "euphoric" might be an exaggeration - I don't necessarily feel euphoric when I see one of these. I just thought it would make a catchy headline. Still, Euphorbia in its many forms is a striking plant. Getting double-takes on the streets of Seattle right now are these specimens of E. wulfenii, that stand about 4 feet tall with huge, chartreuse "flowers." These flowers, technically, are collections of brightly colored bracts. If you look closely you will see tiny "true" flowers nestled inside each bract cup.

There are about 2,000 species of Euphorbia. Probably the best known variety is the poinsettia (E. pulcherrima). Euphorbias can take many forms: shrubs, perennials, annuals and succulents. Most require hotter, drier conditions than we have in the Northwest, but there are several that do well here. In addition to E. wulfenii, look for Mrs. Robb's bonnet (E. amygdaloides robbiae), donkey tail spurge (E. myrsinites), E. palustris, and more at your local nursery.

Note that all plants in this family have white, milky sap that will irritate and even burn your skin. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and long-sleeved shirts when handling them. I've had some nasty burns working with these plants, even when I thought I was being careful. This sap is poisonous if ingested - the level of toxicity varies depending on the cultivar.

There is a variety of Euphorbia called a mole plant or gopher plant ( E. lathyris) because it is believed that the poisonous sap will kill burrowing rodents who attempt to feed on its roots. I've never known this to work. Moles eat worms and grubs, not plant material. For more on what doesn't work, here's an article from MoleCatchers. To get rid of moles, you have to set traps.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Plants That Add Structure to Sunny Garden Beds

As I explained in my introduction to the plant list for shady garden beds, you want to design your garden so that it has a framework, or structure, that is visible year around. When you do this, your garden will look good all year, even in the dead of winter. Here are some plant choices for sunny exposures.

Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy' - Crimson pygmy barberry
Size: up to 2' tall and wide
Comments: Deciduous; deep red leaves; mound-shaped; very tiny yellow flowers in spring; very thorny, can be used as a barrier plant; rarely needs pruning.

Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruiticosa' - True dwarf boxwood

Size: to 4-5' if left unclipped
Comments: Boxwood grows in sun or shade; it can be clipped into a hedge or allowed to grow naturally as a dense, round shrub.

Cistus spp. - Rockrose
Size: 2' - 6' tall and wide, depending on cultivar
Comments: Many cultivars to choose from in different sizes; all are very tolerant of bad soil, drought and salt spray; flower colors range from white to pink to purple; evergreen; use as a hedge or in small groupings.
Euonymous japonicus 'Microphyllus' - Box-leafed euonymous
Size: 1' -2' tall and wide
Comments: Very dark, green leaves; formal looking; needs no clipping; forms an attractive low hedge.
Size: 2' - 6', depending on cultivar
Comments: Many cultivars to choose from. Leaves vary a great deal in size, color, and texture, from convex blue-grey to fleshy purple. Showy varieties like 'Amy' and 'Tricolor' aren't likely to survive prolonged cold or heavy frosts (believe me, I've lost several). But most all varieties will tolerate seaside conditions. Short flower spikes in summer are purple or white. 'Red Edge' lives up to its name in winter/early spring with attractive red margins on the leaves.
Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' - Blue star juniper
Size: up to 12" tall x 2' wide
Comments: Blue foliage with star-like form; unlike any other juniper; good blue accent in the garden.

Nandina domestica - Heavenly bamboo
Size: 3' x 3' up to 8' tall, depending on variety
Comments: Not really a bamboo, but called that because of its leaf shape. All varieties are evergreen. Many to choose from. All do well in sun or shade, but color up best in sun. 'Compacta' is fast growing up to 6', column shaped, red new growth, clusters of white flowers followed by red berries. 'Gulf Stream' gets approximately 4' x 3', burgundy new growth in spring which ages to dark rich green by summer. 'Moon Bay' is slightly smaller, about 3' x 3', new foliage is bright red and/or yellow, like all Nandina, color changes with temperature making it interesting year around. There are many more varieties available. Some have lots of berries, some have none; shapes include: tall and slender and short and wide; some a ground covers. There is some form of Nandina for just about any place in a garden.

Pinus mugo 'Mugo' - Mugo pine
Size: 2' tall and wide and up
Comments: This is a dwarf version of a large mound-shaped pine. Provides year around texture and visual interest.
Viburnum davidii - David's viburnum
Size: to 3' tall and wide
Comments: Often used as a low-growing border. Has clusters of white flowers in spring, followed by iridescent blue berries.

Need more ideas? Get your copy of The Pacific Northwest Gardener's Book of Lists

Euphorbia spp.
Size: 18" to 5' tall
Comments: There are many plants in this group: E. wulfenii is stunning in late winter, standing 4 -5' tall with large clusters of chartreuse bracts atop its many stems. Look for smaller varieties, too; new ones are introduced often. Be careful working with these plants. Their white, milky sap will burn your skin. Wear long sleeves and gloves.
Herbs, such as Lavender, Rosemary and Sage

Size: 18" to 4' tall and wide, depending on type
Comments: All three of these are fragrant; all are drought tolerant; all have blue or purple flowers; all are evergreen, although the sage will lose some leaves in winter. Lavender makes a good low hedge with several varieties to choose from, including Spanish lavender which features a little topknot on top of each flower. Upright rosemary plants will quickly become small shrubs. 'Tuscan Blue' has a particularly vivid blue flower in late winter, early spring. There are several varieties of sage to choose from: purple sage makes a nice accent; pineapple sage has yellow-green leaves.

Ornamental grasses
Size: 18" to 5' tall
Comments: There are many grasses to choose from. Grasses in the Carex family are small, mound-shaped and come in several colors ranging from medium green leaves with creamy edges to bronze. The Miscanthus family includes many interesting cultivars from 4' to 8' tall, with different leaf colors and striping, all topped with feathery plumes in summer. Ornamental grasses can be beautiful and easy to maintain if you choose the right ones. They can be invasive and lots of work if you don't. So do some research before you plant. Consult The New Sunset Western Garden Book for detailed information.
Sedum spectabile 
Size: up to 30" tall and wide

Comments: This is the upright form of a prolific group of plants; several attractive cultivars include 'Autumn Joy' and 'Brilliant.' New foliage begins to show above ground in winter, followed by flowers that resemble broccoli heads. These turn pink or reddish as spring progresses and become handsome dried flowers by fall. Newer introductions have purple foliage. 

Cherries Bloom at the University of Washington

In honor of the first day of spring, here's a video featuring the magnificent Yoshino cherry trees at the Seattle campus of the University of Washington. Enjoy!

The UW Continuing Education Department offers this history of the trees:
"30 Yoshino cherry trees are the hallmark of the University of Washington Quad. They were first planted on land that is now the approach to SR 520, but were relocated to campus during construction of the bridge. Estimated to live between 60 and 100 years, the trees are approximately 63-73 years old. In anticipation of replacing them, the UW Class of 1959 launched the Cherry Tree Project. Cuttings were grafted onto rootstock, and replacement trees are growing in a nursery in Mount Vernon, WA. Visit the original cherry blossoms in the Quad as they begin to bloom now through April. And keep learning. It's the Washington Way."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Plants That Add Structure to Shady Garden Beds

If you plan your garden beds so that they look good even in the winter months, you can be sure they will look good all year around. The way you do this is to include plants that are either evergreen or have something interesting to offer in the winter. Then arrange those plants like a sort of framework, what some people call "the bones of the garden," around which everything else - bulbs, annuals, herbaceous perennials - comes and goes throughout the year. Here are some choices for your shady area.

Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruiticosa' - True dwarf boxwood
Size: to 4-5' if left unclipped
Comments: Boxwood grows in sun or shade; it can be clipped into a hedge or allowed to grow naturally as a dense, round shrub
Camellia japonica or C. sasanqua - Camellias
Size: 6' - 12' tall and wide, depending on variety
Comments: C. japonica is the larger of the two, with glossy green leaves and white or pink flowers. It blooms in late winter into spring and can be trained into a small tree. C. sasanqua is smaller and finer textured. It blooms around Christmas and has a wider variety of flower colors. Good for espallier.
Corylopsis sp. - Winter hazel
Size: 4' - 15' depending on variety
Comments: Deciduous shrubs. C. glabrescens, called fragrant winter hazel, grows 8' - 15' tall and has yellow clusters of fragrant flowers in winter. C. paucifolia, buttercup winter hazel, is much smaller, 4' - 6', with yellow flowers. Both bloom before leafing out. 
Daphne odora 'Marginata' - Winter daphne
Size: to 4' tall and wide
Comments: Fussy daphnes are grown for their divine scent and handsome foliage. This one is no exception. Its fragrance will fill the garden in late winter and the variegated foliage will brighten the landscape year around. Evergreen.
Daphne X burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie'
Size: 3' - 4' tall and wide
Comments: This daphne is semi-evergreen. It emits a wonderful scent from tiny white flowers in late spring and summer; leaves are edged in white.
Fatsia japonica - Japanese aralia
Size: 5' - 8' tall and wide
Comments: Tropical looking shrub, often sold as a house plant, with large, deeply cut leaves. Roundish clusters of white flowers are followed by black fruit. Bold accent plant.
Nandina domestica - Heavenly bamboo
Size: 3' x 3' up to 8' tall, depending on variety
Comments: Not really a bamboo, but called that because of its leaf shape. All varieties are evergreen. Many to choose from. All do well in sun or shade, but color up best in sun. 'Compacta' is fast growing up to 6', column shaped, red new growth, clusters of white flowers followed by red berries. 'Gulf Stream' gets approximately 4' x 3', burgundy new growth in spring which ages to dark rich green by summer. 'Moon Bay' is slightly smaller, about 3' x 3', new foliage is bright red and/or yellow, like all Nandina, color changes with temperature making it interesting year around. There are many more varieties available. Some have lots of berries, some have none; shapes include: tall and slender and short and wide; some a ground covers. There is some form of Nandina for just about any place in a garden. 
Pieris japonica - Lily of the valley shrub
Size: 3' to 8', depending on variety
Comments: Many cultivars to choose from; purchase plants in bloom to be sure of flower color, which ranges from white to deep rose; plants are evergreen, with large clusters of bell-shaped flowers in spring.
Size: 18" - 10' depending on variety
Comments: Huge selection to choose from! Look for unusual leaves or flower color to add interest; consider planting specimens of different varieties to stagger bloom time from very early February to late May/June.
Sarcococca - Vanilla plant
Size: 18" to 5' tall
Comments: S. hookeriana humilis gets only about 18" tall; S. ruscifolia reaches 4' 6' tall and 3' - 7' wide; both have tiny, white, intensely fragrant blooms in winter. They account for much of the wonderful fragrance you enjoy at the Witt Winter Garden in Seattle in late January and February. 
Skimmia japonica
Size: eventually 4' - 5' tall and wide
Comments: Evergreen. There's a male and female form - the female produces red berries. Tiny, white, lightly fragrant flowers bloom in spring; slow growing, mound shaped plant. All skimmia get mites sooner or later. They won't kill the plant and there's nothing really effective you can do to get rid of them. They create an interesting "stippled" effect on the leaves, which is so common that most people think it is normal.
Need more ideas? Get your copy of The Pacific Northwest Gardener's Book of Lists

Acorus gramineus - Japanese sweet flag
Size 6" - 12" 
Comments: Yellow grass-like leaves arranged in a fan shape; brightens shady areas; prefers wet conditions
Carex morrowii 'Aureomarginata'
Size: 10' tall - 24" wide
Comments: Attractive evergreen ornamental grass; medium green blades with creamy margin; good accent; brightens up dark spots in the garden
Size: up to 24"
Comments: Several varieties to choose from: Christmas rose, Lenten rose, Corsican hellebore, stinking hellebore, etc. All have cup-shaped flowers, ranging from white, to chartreuse, to pink and deep, nearly black purples; leaves vary in shape and color from light to very dark green.
Pachysandra terminalis
Size: up to 12" tall, spreads slowly via underground rhizomes 
Comments: Woody, shade-loving ground cover. Small white flowers in short spikes in late winter, early spring. Attractive all year. Variegated form is also available. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Shrubs of Substance

Sometimes there is a large, empty area in a garden that needs something substantial to fill it up. For one reason or another, a tree would be out of place. Perennials and ground covers would be too small to provide the required visual oomph. What is needed is one really big shrub to fill the space and bring some interesting form, flower or fragrance into the garden. Here are some possible choices.

Abelia grandiflora - Glossy abelia
Size: 8' tall x 5'+ wide
Comments: 'Edward Goucher' is a smaller variety, about 5' tall; evergreen; profuse lilac blooms late summer through early fall; arching habit. Do not shear this plant, allow it plenty of room to spread.
Arbutus unedo 'Compacta' - Compact strawberry tree
Size: 8' tall x 8' wide
Comments: Related to our native madrone tree; peeling, reddish bark; evergreen; clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers in spring; red fruit in fall resembling strawberries
Berberis buxifolia - Magellan barberry
Size: 6' tall x 6' wide
Comments: Evergreen; upright; orange flowers, purple berries
Camellia japonica - Camellia
Size: 10'+ tall and wide
Comments: Prefers some shade, although often grown in full sun; blooms in late winter; glossy green leaves; evergreen; can eventually be trained into a small tree
Ceanothus impressus - Santa Barbara ceanothus
Size: 7-10' tall x 10-15' wide
Comments: Dense, dark evergreen foliage; dark blue flower clusters; 'Julia Phelps' on of the best cultivars with very dark blue flowers; profuse bloom in spring
Choisya ternata - Mexican orange
Size: 6-8' tall and wide
Comments: Evergreen; clusters of fragrant white flowers in spring smell like orange blossoms; dense shrub
Cotoneaster lacteus (parneyi)
Size: 8' tall x 10' wide
Comments: Evergreen; tiny white flowers; heavy display of red berries; makes a good hedge or espallier
Escallonia spp.
Size: 5+ tall and wide depending on cultivar
Comments: E. 'Fradesii' gets 5-6' tall, evergreen with profuse rose pink bloom; E. 'Balfouri' gets up to 10' tall and wide with pink-tinged white flowers; E. 'Apple Blossom' 5' x 5', with white blossoms resembling apple blossoms
Osmanthus burkwoodii (also called Osmarea burkwoodii)
Size: 6' tall x 6' wide
Comments: Slow growing; evergreen; small fragrant white flowers in spring; useful as a hedge; full sun/part shade
Osmanthus delavay
Size: 4-6' tall x 6-8' wide
Comments: Evergreen; slow growing; graceful, arching branches; white, small fragrant flowers in spring
Pyracantha coccinea - Firethorn
Size: 8-10' tall and wide
Comments: Evergreen; can be trained along walls; valued for heavy clusters of red-orange berries that persists well into fall until birds eat them all; as name implies, plants are thorny
Raphiolepis indica 'Majestic Beauty' - India hawthorne
Size: to 10' tall and wide
Comments: Fragrant light pink flowers; can be shaped into small tree; evergreen; likes full sun
Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesii' - Marie's doublefile viburnum
Size: 6-8' tall x 8-10' wide
Comments: Deciduous; layer branching pattern; large, white flowers line the tops of all the branches in spring; very showy and graceful; small red fruit starts red and turns black with age; good fall color
Viburnum tinus 'Spring Bouquet' or 'Pink Dawn'
Size: to 12' tall and wide
Comments: Likes full sun; evergreen; blooms fall into spring with clusters of tiny pink, slightly fragrant flowers; metallic blue fruit lasts until early summer
For more information on these shrubs and much, much more, get a copy of  The New Sunset Western Garden Book. This is the latest edition of this classic garden guide, released in February, 2012.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rhododendrons That Don't Get Over 4 Feet Tall

The Rhododendron is the state flower of Washington. Hundreds of varieties thrive in our climate and their prolific blooms are a big part of the reason why spring is such a spectacular season in this region. Still, I've had lots of clients who don't like them. Mostly, their experience of rhodies is that they get huge, turn into big green uninteresting blobs, and block views from windows.

But that doesn't have to be the case. Here's a list of compact Rhododendrons that won't outgrow their welcome.

'Bow Bells' -- 3' -- deep pink buds, light pink flowers
'Cilpinense' -- 3' -- blush pink flower touched with deeper pink; blooms early
'Daphnoides' -- 4' -- unusual foliage, glossy green rolled leaves; purple flowers
'Dora Amateis' -- 3' -- white flower; fragrant
'Impeditum' -- 2' -- purple flower; gray green foliage
'Kimbeth' -- 3' -- deep pink buds through winter open to rosy, red-pink blooms
'Mardi Gras' -- 30" -- pink, blushed white flowers
'Molly Ann' -- 2' -- rose-pink flowers
'Mrs. Furnival' -- 4' -- light pink with striking blotch in center of flower
'Novo Brave' -- 3' --bright pink with a red blotch in center
'Patty Bee' -- 18" -- clear yellow flowers
'PJM' -- 4' -- tolerates cold, heat and sun; blooms early; bright lavender pink flower
'Ramapo' -- 2' -- pinkish-violet flower
'Rosamundi' -- 4' -- light pink flower, blooms very early in the year
'Sapphire' -- 30" -- light blue flowers; fragrant
'Scarlet Wonder' -- 2' -- glossy green leaves; brilliant red bloom, award winner
'Snow Lady' -- 30" -- white flowers resemble fallen snow; early bloomer
'Unique' -- 4' -- bright pink buds open to buttery yellow bloom

R. yakushimanum (also called "yaks") -- several cultivars, including 'Yaku Angel,' 'Mist Maiden,' and 'Ken Janeck' -- 1' - 4' depending on the cultivar; very hardy; pink buds open to pink-turning-white, bell-shaped flowers; resistant to root weevil

For more information on rhododendrons, I recommend Greer's Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons, by Harold Greer. I've used my copy so much, it is literally falling apart. It's held together now with scotch tape. This book is considered by many to be "the bible" on rhododendrons with descriptions and ratings of hundreds of cultivars.  He includes color photos of many flowers, as well.

MORE Good Deciduous Trees for Small Urban Gardens

In case you missed my earlier post listing 10 Good Deciduous Trees for Small Urban Gardens, you can access it here. Now here are 10 MORE good choices.

11. Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Pendula' - Copper weeping beech
Size: 10' tall x 10' wide
Comments: Purple leaves; splendid accent plant; good in containers
12. Ginkgo biloba - Ginkgo
Size: 40+' tall x 20' wide
Comments: Very slow growing; unique leaf shape; deep gold fall color
13. Hamamelis mollis - Chinese witch hazel
Size: 10-15' tall and wide
Comments: Great small tree/shrub for year around interest; yellow to orange spidery flowers appear before leaves in winter, some varieties are fragrant; attractive leaf and branching patterns; great fall color ranging from yellow to red-orange.
14. Liquidamber styraciflua - American sweet gum
Size: to 25'
Comments: Fabulous fall color: red, yellow, purple; attractive bark
15. Oxydendron arboreum - Sourwood
Size: 15-20" tall x 20' wide
Comments: Pyramidal form; vivid fall color; creamy fragrant, bell-shaped flowers; seed capsules in fall
16. Parrotia persica - Persian ironwood
Size: 15-35' tall 
Comments: attractive year around, especially with fall color that changes from golden yellow, to orange to scarlet
17. Stewartia monadelpha - Tall stewartia
Size: to 25' tall
Comments: Brilliant red fall color; rich, brown, scaly bark becoming cinnamon-colored in age; graceful tree
18. Stewartia pseudocamellia - Japanese stewartia
Size: 30+' tall
Comments: Pyramidal form; slow growing; orange-red to purplse fall color; creamy white flowers in summer resemble those of cmellias; showy, peeling bark with shades of tan, green, grey, rust, terra cotta and cream.
19. Styrax japonica - Japanese snowbell tree
Size: up to 30' tall
Comments: Strong horizontal branching patterns; small, white, slightly fragrant snow-drop flowers line the undersides of branches in spring; clear yellow fall color
20. Styrax obassia - Fragrant snowbell
Size: 20-20' tall
Comments: Oval-round shape; white flowers same as above, but more fragrant; blooms somewhat later in the season; yellow fall color. 
For more information on these trees and much, much more, consult The New Sunset Western Garden Book. This is the newest edition of this classic garden guide, released in February, 2012.

10 Good Deciduous Trees for Small Urban Gardens

Here is a list of deciduous trees that fit nicely into small gardens. Each has characteristics that offer visual interest at different times during the year.

1. Acer circinatum - Vine maple
Size: 15' tall x 20' wide
Comments: Vine maple is a Northwest native tree that grows in the shade of our forest trees, like Douglas fir and Western red cedar. It gets its name from the fact that it grows parallel to the ground, like a vine, in native settings. In sunny, urban gardens it grows upright with a somewhat columnar shape. Good fall color.
2. Acer grisseum - Paperbark maple
Size: up to 25' tall
Comments: Beautiful, peeling, reddish bark is attractive year around; bright red fall color.
3. Acer palmatum - Japanese maple
Size: varies - up to 20'
Comments: There are many trees in this group, some with red foliage, some with green. Some have lacy, deeply-cut leaves. There are upright varieties and weeping ones. All have graceful form. All do best if they have a break from all-day sun. Beautiful fall color; depending on the variety it ranges from clear yellow to fiery scarlet.
4. Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' - Bloodgood Japanese maple
Size: up to 15' tall
Comments: Graceful tree; foliage holds its red color longer through the summer than many other varieties.
5. Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' - Coralbark maple
Size: up to 20'
Comments: Bright red twigs and branches make for beautiful tree even without leaves; bright yellow fall color. 
6. Cercidiphyllum japonicum - Katsura tree
Size: up to 30' tall
Comments: Heart-shaped leaves emerge with purplish cast, becoming blue-green in summer and bright yellow in fall; graceful branching pattern
7. Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' - Forest pansy redbud
Size: up to 25' tall
Comments: Purple heart-shaped foliage; small pink flowers in spring
8. Cornus kousa - Kousa dogwood
Size: 20' tall x 20' wide
Comments: Resistant to anthracnose; creamy white bracts in late spring - early summer; red fruit in fall; yellow or scarlet fall color
9. Cotinus coggygria - Smoke tree
Size: 12' - 15' tall and wide
Comments: Green, gold and purple forms, with purple being most popular; 'Royal purple' holds color well through summer; dramatic clusters of tiny flowers in summer give the appearance of "smoke;" takes coppicing; drought tolerant
10. Davidia involucrata - Dove tree
Size: 35+' tall and 15+' wide
Comments: Wonderful specimen for the larger urban garden. Spring blooms look like white doves or handkerchiefs; vivid green leaves; best as a stand-alone tree.
For more information on these trees and much, much more, consult The New Sunset Western Garden Book. This is the newest edition of this classic garden guide, released in February, 2012.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The 4-Step Rose Food Program

Regardless of the type of rose you plant, it is important to remember that roses are heavy feeders. One of the reasons that many of them have severe disease and pest problems is because they are under-nourished. Stressed out plants, just like stressed out people, are more susceptible to health problems.

Here is a 4-Step feeding program for roses that was given to me years ago by a rosarian with a passion for both beautiful roses and keeping hazardous chemical use to a minimum. He has long since sold his nursery and moved out of the area. Thanks, Robert, wherever you are!

  1. In February or March, after you have pruned your roses, apply 1 cup of superphosphate to each rose in your garden. Superphosphate works better than bone meal because it breaks down faster. It builds strong root systems and improves the rose's ability to flower repeatedly over the summer. It also costs less. Use it only once a year.
  2. In March or April, apply 1 cup of alfalfa meal of 2 cups of alfalfa pellets to each rose. Some rosarians repeat this application in June. Alfalfa releases nitrogen slowly and releases an enzyme that dramatically increases the rose's feeder root system. This means that the plant can make better use of available nutrients in the soil, as well as the fertilizers you give it.
  3. Starting in April, as the soil begins to warm, apply 1/2 cup of granular 16-16-16 fertilizer, and re-apply every 4-6 weeks. Your last application should be in August. (As with all granular fertilizers, water well after application unless you have adequate rainfall to dissolve them.) This step is the core of your feeding program.
  4. In May or June, apply Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to your roses to stimulate new, larger canes and to enhance flower color. Use 3/8 to 1/2 cup per rose. Magnesium sulphate, combined with a complete feeding program, does a good job of rejuvenating old, tired roses. 
Along with a good feeding program, be sure that your roses get plenty of water during dry spells. They aren't as thirsty as lawns, but still - they aren't drought tolerant. Also, roses need lots of sun. There are a few, rare cultivars that will grow in shade, but most will be leggy, buggy and fail to bloom unless they are in full sun.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Coral Bark Maple

On gray, rainy days like this one, we welcome color in the landscape. Perhaps that's why coral bark maples (Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku') are so popular here.
Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'
These bright red branches really brighten up the day - there aren't many trees that look this good without their leaves on. 

Coral bark maples belong to the big, beautiful family of Japanese maples that thrive in the Pacific Northwest. Like other members of this family, these maples do best when they have some protection from full sun, western exposures. Given part-sun conditions, they require minimal summer watering once established. 

Coral bark maples are well suited to small urban gardens. Their mature height is rarely above 25'; width can be between 15' and 20'. They have an attractive vase-shape that needs little or no pruning. Their new growth tends to be twiggy, as you see above, but a little bit of judicious thinning will shape them up nicely. 

These trees offer year around beauty. In addition to the bright, coral-colored branches in winter, they have attractive light green foliage in spring and summer. In fall, their leaves turn a stunning, clear yellow - every bit as eye-catching as the branches.

Coral bank maples are available in Seattle-area nurseries now. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Taking a Stroll Through the Witt Winter Garden

For me, one of the highlights of the winter season in Seattle is visiting the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum. We had an unusual stretch of mild weather this past week, so I was able to make my annual visit without dodging raindrops. Here are some photos:
This is the entrance to the garden, lined with red and yellow witch hazels (Hamamelis sp.) in full bloom. I wish I could somehow send you the fragrance of this garden. The air is perfumed with the scents of witch hazels and vanilla plant (Sarcococca sp.)

Here is a close up of the tiny, white, intensely fragrant flowers of Sarcococca confusa.

It might still be winter, but this garden has lots of color and contrast this time of year. Here is a yellow twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea') with a mass planting of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') at its feet.

If it's flower color you are craving, here's a winter blooming Rhododendron hybrid. You will also find several Camellia sasanquas in this garden, some with pink flowers, some with white.

There are several varieties of hellebores in this garden, this one is Helleborus foetidus. It is called "stinking" hellebore because the plant leaves and flowers give off an unpleasant smell when crushed. I also saw some pale yellow Helleborus orientalis, or Lenten rose, in full bloom, and others with deep purple blooms about to open.

And here, like strings of pearls, are the elegant catkins of the native silktassel (Garrya elliptica 'Issaquahensis')

Pink cyclamen bloom at the base of a Japanese stewartia (Stewartia monadelpha), a tree noted for its beautiful bark. There are many more wonderful plants to see in this garden. If you live in the Seattle area and never visited it before, treat yourself to a stroll through this garden from late January through February. It will open your eyes and your senses to the pleasures of gardens in winter.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Box Full of Fragrant Winter Gardening Joy

We're having a stretch of unusually dry, mild weather this week, and it's good to be outside. I have a hundred chores to do, but before getting started, I decided go to the local nursery to buy a new pair of gloves. Of course, you know how that is... I found a few more things that needed to come home with me.

And here they are, in my little box of winter gardening joy. On the left, in back, is a tiny Daphne odora, with scented blooms about to open, which will be a lovely Valentine gift for a friend; next to Daphne is Sarcococca confusa in full, fragrant bloom; in front, on the left, a lightly fragrant, yellow 'Danova' primrose; at right, a purple 'Danova' primrose. And then, of course, there are the gloves which I shall put on now and get to work.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Behind the Scenes at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

If you've been to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, which opens this year on February 8 in Seattle, you've seen the remarkable display gardens that form the centerpiece of the show. These gardens look as though they have been there for years, with rock outcroppings, stone stairs, meandering paths, fully mature plant material, waterfalls, ponds, garden sheds, seating areas, gazebos, arbors, and lush blooms. But in fact, it's all an illusion. These gardens haven't been there long at all - the teams who design and build these gardens have only 72 hours from the time they enter that huge empty space at the Convention Center until the opening of the show.

I've been to this show many times in the past 20 years, as a visitor, as an exhibitor and as a helper with garden construction. Of all my experiences with the Flower and Garden Show, my favorite has always been having the opportunity to be there when the gardens are built. It is magical to see them evolve and it gives me an even greater appreciation for the people who bring us this event every year.

Here's a glimpse behind the scenes: