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.