Friday, August 15, 2014

Chihuly Garden & Glass

There really is nothing quite like the Chihuly Garden, one half of the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit at Seattle Center. Situated at the foot of the iconic Space Needle, it combines Northwest native plants, selected ornamentals and an imaginative collection of glass art. Here are a few images of this unique garden.

To get to the Garden, you first tour the Glass exhibit, and then walk through a glass house, pictured above, which leads out into the Garden.

Once outside, you see a magnificent glass sculpture representing the sun, suspended over a mass planting of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') - a visual representation of night and day.

The rest of the garden beds have individual color themes. Here purple "candles" stand alongside native ferns and logs salvaged from Northwest forests.

Plants in each bed have been chosen to complement the glass. The red branches of the coral bark maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku') shown above echo the red glass surrounding it.

The orange garden is pure whimsey. I imagine that the daylilies in the foreground have yellow-orange blooms, but even without bloom, this bed is eye catching.

Note: all of these photos were taken when the Garden opened two years ago. As plants have matured, it undoubtedly looks quite a bit different. Which leads me to my only complaint about this exhibit. It would be nice to be able to visit just the Garden, without having to buy a ticket for both the Garden and the Glass exhibit. After all, plants are constantly changing, but the glass, once blown, stays the same.

That said, the interior Glass exhibit is well worth a visit at least once for its remarkable collection of Chihuly glass. And if you are hungry, you'll also enjoy the attached Collections Cafe, with excellent food served amid Chilhuly's collections of toy trucks, transistor radios, and more. Be sure to look up at the ceiling!

Chihuly Garden and Glass is located on the grounds of Seattle Center. For information on hours, ticket prices and more, click here.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Save Your Back With Raised Beds

If you've decided that you want to turn part of your lawn into a vegetable garden, where do you start?

Here's one way to go about it. First, rent a sod cutter or use a mattock to take out the grass. (Be sure to take up all of the roots or, before you know it, grass will start growing again in your new garden.) Then turn the soil, using either a shovel or a rototiller. After that, amend the soil with compost and perhaps test the soil to see if there are other micro-nutrients that need to be added. When you have worked all of that into the soil, then rake it out, break up any remaining clods, and prepare the bed for planting.

OR - skip all of that and build raised beds right on top of the grass.

You can build frames like the ones shown above, using cedar 1x6 planks and 2x2 corner posts. These particular frames are about 18" deep, deep enough for root crops like potatoes or carrots. But beds don't have to be that deep - 8" to 12" is adequate if you intend to grow herbs and flowers.

To smother the grass so that it doesn't come up into your raised bed garden, try this simple sheet composting method. First, if the grass is dried out, splash a little water on it. You want it to be moist as though it had just rained. Now sprinkle a very thin layer of compost over the grass. Over that, lay newspaper, 4 or 5 sheets thick, being careful to completely cover all of the grass. Now spread another layer of compost over the top of the newspaper and sprinkle a bit of water over it. Then add clean topsoil to fill the raised bed and plant your garden.

The newspaper will keep the grass from growing and the micro-organisms in the compost will break down the dead grass and newspaper. It takes about a year for this process to be complete. In the meantime, over the top of it all, you are growing and harvesting food for your table.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Magic of Mulch

When I do consultations, I get a lot of questions about mulch. First of all, what IS mulch? Is it compost, bark, what?

The answer is that mulch is a blanket - it is any material that you use to cover the bare soil in your garden beds. It could be compost, bark, fallen leaves, pine needles, a composted combination of sawdust and manure, even rocks or crushed glass (I do not recommend the last choice in particular, but I have seen it done) - anything that covers the soil while allowing water and air to penetrate.

Mulch is usually applied in a layer 1-1/2 to 2" deep. This depth will help hold moisture in the soil so you won't have to water as often. It will also do a good job of keeping weeds under control. I believe that weeding without mulching is a waste of your time. When you have weeded and loosened the soil, you've created a perfect place for weed seed blowing by on a spring breeze to land and germinate. A thick layer of mulch is not as "germination friendly" as your freshly worked soil, so it keeps new weeds from getting established. If there is already weed seed in the ground, which is often the case in areas that have been weedy for a long time, it has trouble germinating if it is smothered by a good layer of mulch.
Heather bed before weeding
When people tell me that they used a mulch "but the weeds came right back," it's because one of two things happened.
1) They didn't put down enough mulch. A mere half inch is not enough.

Heather bed after weeding and mulching with Steerco
2) They failed to weed thoroughly. If the roots are still in the ground, the weeds will regrow quickly. Pulling the tops off isn't weeding. You have to use a hand cultivator or soil knife and grub out those roots. In areas that have long been home to weeds, a couple of seasons of diligent weeding will be necessary to get things under control. Each year will be easier and by season 3, you'll be pleased to see how quickly you can get your beds weeded and looking good.

OK, now you know why you should use a mulch. So the question is: which one? A lot of people use bark, but I don't recommend it. Bark is not composted. After you spread it out over your garden beds, it will start to break down and as it composts itself it takes nitrogen from the soil to complete that process. That means there is less nitrogen available for your plants to use and they end up stressed. Notice the leaf color on plants sitting in a sea of bark. The leaves are often yellowish instead of deep green - and that's because they lack nitrogen. To keep that from happening, use a mulch that has already been composted.

(That said, I do like bark as a place holder. If you have a spot overrun by weeds that you plan sometime in the future to turn into garden space, weed it well and put down a thick layer of bark. It will keep the weeds down and when you are ready to use the space, you can plow the composted bark into the soil. Thick layers of coarsely chopped bark also make fine garden paths between raised beds.)

That narrows the choice down to compost (homemade or commercial) or products like Steerco and Gro-co. Steerco is a combination of composted sawdust and steer manure. Gro-co is composted sawdust and municipal sludge (in other words treated and composted sewage). Some people have no problem with Gro-co, others are creeped out by it. It is completely safe. The only possible objection I might have is that there might be a higher (but still very small) concentration of heavy metals in it.

My preference is Steerco, sold in Seattle by Sawdust Supply, the company that provides all the soil and mulch for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. I've used countless yards of this material in the past 20 years and have always been happy with the result. It is already composted and contains microorganisms that perk up tired garden beds. It helps add structure to sandy soils and loosens clay soils - provided that you make it part of your annual bed clean up and maintenance. It does all the things you want a mulch to do, plus it has no odor and it looks great. It makes the humblest garden look professionally done.

On top of all that, Steerco is a bargain. A bag weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 lbs. and costs about $5, including tax. Steerco is also available by the yard. You can pick it up yourself or have it delivered.

If you need to figure out how much mulch, bark or topsoil you need for a project, here's a handy chart.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Real Palm Trees of Southern California

Does it seem odd that I am posting photos of trees in California? Well, when you consider that this has been a long, cold winter, one that refuses to leave, getting lost in images of blue skies and warm weather is a welcome distraction. Am I right?

So, happy First Day of Spring 2014 everyone. Here are photos I took on a trip to Palm Springs not long ago. Enjoy!

I grew up in Northern California so palms trees were part of my daily surroundings. I still don't know the botanical names for them. There's just tall ones....
And short ones.

And in Palm Springs, you might find some metal ones. (Monkeys seem to love 'em.)

And then there are the camera flare palms. I don't know how I got this shot and I'm sure I couldn't replicate it. It is probably my favorite one of all.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Plants With Benefits ;)

You probably know that a tomato is called a "love apple." But do you know why? The answer to that question and pretty much anything else you want to know about the aphrodisiac qualities of herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers can be found in Helen Yoest's book, "Plants With Benefits."

This charming book has something for everyone.
  • For those who have a passion for a good story, Yoest explains the folk lore surrounding 50 plants, including avocados (bad news for Aztec virgins), celery (Casanova's secret weapon), and fennel (straight from the Kama Sutra). 
  • For ardent gardeners, there are botanical descriptions and tips for growing these plants. 
  • For the lusty cook, there are recipes. 
  • And for the lover in all of us, there is that all important information: "Why It Works." 
With seductive headings like "seeds of desire" (for the section on anise), "viagra for women"(nutmeg), and "don't ask for it in Cuba" (papaya), this book is irresistible. Get a copy and experience it for yourself. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Spite of Challenges, the 2014 Northwest Flower and Garden Show Was a Treat

You have to feel a bit sorry for the organizers of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show which opened at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle on Wednesday and runs until 6 p.m. tonight. This show, the second largest gardening show in the US, has been described as a "Disneyland for gardeners." Every February it draws people from all over the region, busloads in fact, offering a break from winter weather and a welcome bit of inspiration, reminding us that spring is on the way.

But unlike years past, the opening day of the show was hardly mentioned on the local news. That day's BIG story was the Seahawks Super Bowl celebration and parade that brought 750,000 people to the streets of Seattle. I can't imagine how people working and/or attending the show on Wednesday were able to get in or out of the Convention Center.

After that, it seemed like things would go back to normal. But then weather forecasters started talking about snow. A lot of us (myself included) didn't think too much about that. Snow is uncommon in Seattle in February.

I was scheduled to work at the show yesterday afternoon, in the South Seattle Community College Landscape Horticulture booth. When I left my house for the Convention Center, the sun was out and I hardly felt like I needed a coat. My friends and I joked about the snow predictions. I worked my shift, and toured the show, delighted that it wasn't very crowded. Maybe people were scared off by the weather forecasts? If so, that was good for attendees, but not so good for show organizers.

Whatever the reason, it was nice to be able to move around without encountering human traffic jams. There were some delightful display gardens this year and being able to get up close was a treat. 

I came home at dinnertime, the prospect of snow pretty much forgotten. But then, around 6:30, it started to snow. We got about 3 inches last night. In spite of above freezing temps during the day, a lot of snow is still on the ground. And in a couple of hours, exhibitors will start the process of breaking down the show and moving all those trees, shrubs, gardening products, structures, yards of topsoil and mulch, and gigantic granite boulders out of the Convention Center. Having been part of that process in the past, I know it isn't fun under the best of conditions. My sympathies all around.

The parade and the snow storm aside, it was a great show. I hope you got a chance to attend. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How To Prune Tree-Like Shrubs

Are you wondering what to do with that "big green hippopotamus of a shrub" outside your window? Here's a video from Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty, describing how to do a proper job of pruning large shrubs.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Common Pruning Mistakes

In our area, January and February is the time to prune woody plants, except those that bloom in spring. (Which you could prune if you want to, but then you would be cutting off all the flower buds.)

Of all the things people do in gardens, pruning seems to me to be the one thing everyone thinks they know how to do and almost everyone, even those who are supposedly professionals, gets wrong. This drives me crazy because once a plant has been butchered, it can't be put back together again.

So to get 2014 off to a good start, I am going to post pruning videos from Plant Amnesty, featuring Cass Turnbull. Cass has been a landscape gardener for 30 years and she's seen it all. She's opinionated, funny and a good teacher. So watch and learn. And then visit her website for more information.