Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Years ago, a friend of mine, who then owned a small native plant nursery, asked me to help with her booth at a plant sale at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. At the time, I didn't know much about Northwest natives and I thought it would be a good way to spend some time with her and learn more.

As we unloaded her truck, she pointed to a flat of plants. "These are Lewisia," she said as if I should know the significance of that. "Keep an eye on them or they will disappear," she added, somewhat sternly. I looked at the plants. They didn't look like anything special. None were in bloom. The leaves formed a flat, fleshy rosette that looked like they could be related to Echeveria (hens and chicks). Surely she didn't mean that anyone would steal one of these when we weren't looking?!

We set up our display and she brought out signs with descriptions of the various plants, and for those not in bloom like the Lewisia, photos of the flowers. When I saw the photos, I began to understand why these plants might be of interest. These beautiful little alpine flowers will stop you in your tracks.

What I also didn't realize was that very few people at that time propagated Lewisia for sale. They weren't available at nurseries then (although the L. cotyledon you see in the photo above is one I bought at West Seattle Nursery several years ago). You would have to go up into the mountains, as she had, and collect seed or get the seed from someone who had. Getting the seed wasn't even half the battle. These plants aren't easy to grow. They need sharp drainage and a fair amount, but not too much, sun.

Of course, the plant enthusiasts at the sale that day already knew all of this. Once the sale began, word spread rapidly that we had Lewisia for sale. A crowd gathered. My friend could have sold that flat of plants 10 times over! She said she would sell only one plant to a customer. She knew how hard they were to grow and felt that if several gardeners each got a plant, there was a greater likelihood that some plants would survive than if just one or two people got them all. There was a lot of pleading and begging going on, but she stuck to that policy. We sold out of Lewisia in mere minutes.

Lewisia is much more available today than it was back then. But it still isn't easy to grow. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try. If you are interested and have a sandy, rocky spot, buy a plant and see what happens. Every summer when my Lewisia blooms, I'm glad I did.

If you'd like to learn more about Pacific Northwest native plants, I recommend Arthur Kruckeberg's classic reference, "Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Walkway and Driveway Materials

Our eyes are naturally drawn to walkways and driveways as we walk by the front of a house or look for a place to park. Because of that, the materials used for these paths are important elements in an overall landscape design. The best materials are those that both function well (right sized, safe and easy to maintain) and harmonize with the house. Here are examples of some good design ideas.

This is an interesting choice. This walkway (above) connecting the sidewalk with the front porch is made of weathered cedar, which matches the weathered cedar stairs and deck. The house has cedar siding, too - it all works together.

People often wrinkle their noses when I sing the praises of concrete because they think concrete is boring. It certainly doesn't have to be. It can take on any shape you can build a form for and it can be tinted, as it has been here, to go with any color scheme. Note how well this colored concrete harmonizes with the slate stairs.

The walkway in the foreground here connects the sidewalk to the front door of this house. Note how the expansion joints in the concrete give the impression of large, rectangular pavers. The walkway thus repeats the theme of this formal garden which has been laid out in a series of rectangles, emphasized by the concrete walls of the raised bed.

The concrete for this carport has been both tinted and stamped to give it a lot more character than a typical, plain slab of grey. Note how the rectangular pattern in the stamp repeats the rectangles you see in the shadow of the arbor overhead. Concrete stamps are available in a variety of patterns.

This long driveway combines concrete for tire treads, with grass down the center which allows rain water to soak into the ground rather than run off into the storm sewer. The metal 1/2 circles, which appear to be recycled from some industrial project, add a charming touch. 

If you are thinking of replacing a walkway or driveway, take a little time to walk around the neighborhood and see some of the creative solutions out there. There are no end to the possibilities.

Too rainy for a walk? Check out "Curb Appeal," from the editors of Sunset Books, for more inspiration. Before and after photos show how changes in exterior features, including walkways and driveways, plus paint, fencing,  lighting and other do-it-yourself projects can make all the difference in how you feel about that place you call home.