Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pacific Northwest Garden Tour Hits Highlights and More

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour is brimming with reasons to visit the gardens in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. It's enough to make anyone who has ever given a flower a second glance to throw caution to the wind, say tah tah to reason and hop a plane to Portland.

Donald Olson's new book, published by Timber Press, is good enough to make even the casual gardener add an arboretum or two to their itinerary.

In the Pacific Northwest, you couldn't throw a stone without hitting a rhodo or a rose or a moss-covered surface. Anyone seeing the region for the first time (or any time for that matter) can improve their trip with a little perspective to go along with their oohs and aahs. That perspective should be provided by Olson's book.

Magnolia wilsonii at Hoyt Arboretum, 2007.
He names Portland, OR, Seattle, WA and Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia the three great garden cities in the Pacific northwest. From just a handful of visits, I would have to agree. The three cities are tied together in the introduction, where Olson compresses the history and hits the highlights of how the area became the garden paradise it is known to be today.

For example, the Hoyt Arboretum was completed during the Depression era with labor from F.D. R.'s Works Progress Administration program. It was at the Hoyt Arboretum that I fell in love with Magnolias.

The Dog-friendly Garden at Oregon Garden in Silverton (2007)
I like that the book has a short rundown at the beginning of each entry--hours, admission, address and phone, etc. The book's format, in which each region is divided into areas makes the book even more accessible. Olson has created a round-up of public gardens, independent nurseries, sanctuaries, former estates and urban parks. You'll find a bit of history on each place, plus lots of behind the scenes tidbits.

One of the first gardens I toured in 2007 was Oregon Garden in Silverton. According to Olson, it opened in 2000 as an outdoor showplace for the Willamette Valley horticulture industry.

A patch of, at the time, unnamed Helenium at Joy Creek (2008).
Now, it is managed by a company that operates the Oregon Garden Resort, which features an on-site hotel. In 2007 when we visited, they were putting finishing touches on the resort buildings. We stayed there in 2013, and enjoyed it just as much as we had six years earlier, even though it never stopped raining for an entire day.

The Garden Writers Association held its annual conference in Portland, OR in 2008 and I visited a whole new set of gardens, including two mentioned in the Pacific Northwest Garden Tour--Cistus Nursery, and Joy Creek Nursery, both of which deserve a spot in any book for Oregon gardeners.
Astoria-Megler Bridge from our hotel room (2008).

Packing up plants (2008)
When I visited Joy Creek, I was enthralled with the healthy and vivid Heleniums. I didn't buy any but I did have them ship me a Clematis and a Kniphofia.

It was 2008 that we drove across the Astoria-Megler Bridge from Astoria into Washington for a day. Our trip was coming to an end, and I was looking forward to planting all of the goodies I received at the Garden Writers event.

Siberian iris 'So Van Gogh' at Mid-America Garden (2013).
Olson nails the back story of Sebright Gardens, and its affiliation with Mid-America Garden. Sebright is a nursery specializing in shade plants that also has gorgeously-landscaped display gardens. I remember as I meandered through Sebright's display beds wondering why the landscaped grounds seemed to suddenly shift to a display of row upon row of peonies and irises. I didn't know it until I saw Olson's book, but the Mid-America Garden, adjacent to Sebright, is devoted to irises, and is a great place to take a gander at the latest varieties.

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour  is as vital an item to pack on a trip west as comfortable shoes, plenty of time and a camera. Its small size and tons of photos make it a great companion on the plane if you haven't already dog-eared its pages marking the places you want to see before you've even scheduled your vacation.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Adorable Bulb Makes Welcome Houseplant

It's within the range of February's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day--a bit late because I had to include the nearly-opened flower of this little cutie (and as a third person non-fiction just to change things up):

Chubby, compact and upright were the qualities that had fascinated her over the past year or so-- the qualities that led her to plant seven varieties of torch lily, four different pineapple lilies, and now, Lachenalia, an African plant with no common name that she could find.

This latest was something she stumbled on as she poked around the web researching some topic for a magazine feature. Detours were common in the life of a writer, especially a modern writer who no longer traveled to a library but learned all she needed from a Google search.

Any color besides salt-melt grey was an apparition in a Midwest winter. But a flower of iridescent violet streaked with chartreuse was especially welcome.

Lachenalia 'Rupert' is just beginning to open.
Grown from a bulb, Lachenalia is a member of the Hyacinth family. And like the Dutch hyacinth, Lachenalia blooms in spring. And since it's not hardy, desperate Midwestern gardener potted up  six bulbs indoors in a mix created with a generous helping of orchid bark and gave them as much light as possible as they prepared to make their entrance.

From the top, Lachenalia shows off its closed-up flowers that look like purple tootsies.

While success has revolved around this one bulb, two others have formed flowers, albeit in a much slower fashion. This, she figured, is a result of planting depth. And now, as the one that's tallest grows larger, those left to lag fall behind even further from the overshadowing provided by the expanding flower spike.

The bulbs were planted in a quick-draining mix containing orchid bark. The oak-looking seedlings are a mystery.
Author's note (Because I've always wanted to write one.): I couldn't help writing in third person after listening to the audio book Dead Tomorrow by British author Peter James. Can you tell I wrote this with an English accent?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Garden-pedia is a must have reference

Garden-pedia by Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini is a reference to nearly every term you'll encounter along your personal gardening path, no matter how far you've gotten.

Sometimes, all you have time for is a snippet of information--just enough to get you to that reference point where you can get on with your life.

Did you know that lead could be found in soil? (A good reason to get your soil tested.)

Some gardening terms--like budding, chipping and standard--can have more than one meaning?

And, what the heck is a macronutrient, anyway?

Answers to all of these questions, from the obscure to the obvious, can be found in Garden-pedia, published by St. Lynn's Press. I loved perusing this book at the dinner table. (Yes, we do that.) It's not a meaty book, but one that might lead to further examination of a term, a method, or a type of plant you're considering for your garden.

Just because it makes a small footprint and makes a fun read doesn't mean Garden-pedia is a book for dummies. Whether you consider yourself a beginner or a seasoned horticultural veteran, the book offers nuggets of information that will make you a better gardener. At the very least, it will make you more fun at parties. Can anyone name the three sides of the disease triangle?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Kitchen Gardening?

Perhaps not the kitchen, but somewhere in your abode lives memories or even remnants of a new gardener's attempts at growing plants indoors. It could be a thread of macrame cord from a spider plant, or a spray bottle used for misting that finicky fern. I'd hazard to guess most of us started planting things indoors before the gardening obsession took us over completely. Where we went from there is as varied as the species we plant.

But if you suffer a winter with freezing temps, you also spend several months suffering the loss of fresh-tasting vegetables. According to Elizabeth Millard in her new book, Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden, it doesn't have to be that way.

I like that she addresses a plan. I'm a firm believer that failures are the result (partially, at least) of poor planning. Whether you're new at the whole gardening thing or would like to give the indoor venue another shot, having a plan keeps expectations real.

For example, the author asks:
  1. What do you hope to gain?
  2. How ambitious do you want to be?
  3. What's your vacation schedule like?
  4. Are you looking for indoor-only growing, or transfers between the kitchen and outdoor garden?
I've started plants indoors for eventual planting outdoors, but usually don't start up until March. As for ambitions, I'd simply like to have fresh greens, not potatoes and mushrooms. Although Millard offers great details on starting and growing these long-term commitment vegetables, I opted to achieve the easiest victory.

Microgreens is a term that wasn't around when I was a kid. I first encountered them at a restaurant where they were sprinkled atop a minute salad. My first thought was, "What cute little seedlings. But what are they doing on my food?"

I knew what a seedling looked like, after all, and that's what these were. I assumed they were edible, yet I wasn't sure what to expect, so I just doused them with dressing and dug in. I think the restaurant owner/chef should have included a little notice with the salad that said something like, "These are sprouts of radish/cabbage/carrot (or whatever) and are higher in nutrients than the actual plant. And they taste delicious."

Even the USDA sings the praises of this tiny but mighty produce. I pictured Popeye opening a tiny vial filled with spinach microgreens to give him the same walloping energy as a whole can.

I sampled a product called Microgreenz, a simple little method of growing your own microgreens. From the instructions, it seemed it couldn't be easier. I filled the ceramic tray with soilless mix, planted the seed and put it in the window. I got sprouts, but learned that just spraying the seedlings didn't provide them with enough moisture. And because the tray had no drainage, it would be easy to drown the little guys.

The chapter on microgreens in Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden alone makes the book a winner. Millard explains what they are--initial leaves of a seedling called cotyledons. She recommends beets, mustard, radish or carrot, which all sound good to me. She also suggests containers for growing them and how to make sure they're getting the right amount of moisture.

The author calls growing microgreens the ideal initial project. I really like how she shows photos of what they look like at harvest stage, and offers specific and detailed troubleshooting sections about growing microgreens, and how to use them in recipes.

And if a foray into microgreens isn't enough, there is a chapter on growing shoots, which Millard defines as just microgreens of the seeds you've chosen. She recommends peas, sunflowers, popcorn and nasturtium as making some tasty shoots for harvesting, storing and using in recipes.

I'll follow the author's advice to know the limit of your ambitions, and will stick with microgreens. But if I change my mind, I'll delve into the other chapters of her book, which include more long-term goals like fully-grown radishes, hot peppers, tomatoes and lettuces.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Of Course They Come in Blue--Bring on the Spray Paint!

I'm still getting comments on the piece I wrote about a succulent that had been painted blue, apparently, to gain the attention of unsuspecting consumers who don't realize that it isn't real.

It would have been nice if the plant come with a label disclosing that it had been spray painted and eventually grow out of its color.

Advertisers have figured out what the consumer wants, which is why the term "new" is used so often. We like to try/see/taste/grow/have things no one else has tried/seen/tasted/grown/had. Other popular buzzwords are "energy-efficient," "organic," and "gluten-free." It's the consumer's perception that causes him to gravitate toward these icons and what they represent.

Anyway, we've all felt swindled or cheated at some time in our lives. My friend the horticulturist felt a bit sheepish, I'm sure, but it was very early spring and cold and gloomy outside. The plant was $10, which means she paid at least twice what the Echeveria was worth. But in the big scheme of things, it was a relatively inexpensive lesson to learn.

Should there be warnings or laws that protect us from these fraudulent claims? Warnings, perhaps. Laws, I don't think so. With laws like that in place we'd never have "glitter mums," or deep blue carnations at our local supermarkets. And why else would they be selling if somebody out there likes them.

Why else would the Martha Stewart website offer instructions for putting glitter on roses?

Dyed and spray-painted flowers (fresh is relative, I guess) also are available. Although, to me, the look created here might as well be made of paper, cloth or even plastic, somebody out there likes them. I found some information on how florists dye flowers on the ProFlowers blog.

I'm not a fan, but as my mother used to say, "It takes all kinds."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Peony Companions - Because Even the Best Flowers Need Friends

What goes with peonies? Here are a few of my favorites.

This sunny spot is home to a huge Baptisia 'Purple Smoke', which goes perfectly with any peony planted nearby. It's kind of a giant, and tends to be a leaner in a semi-shaded garden, so I prop it up as much as I can so it doesn't completely obliterate any neighboring peonies. The big-headed Allium are also good companions.

This old-fashioned peony 'Mme Ducel' is positioned on the sunny side of a shaded bed, where Hakonechloa 'All Gold' brightens up the background.

One of my favorite white-on white combos is Peony 'White Wings' with Ornithogalum magnum, a hardy bulb that can be planted in the fall.

I love Siberian iris for its ease of culture and healthy foliage that offers grass-like vertical interest through the season. And there is little better for accenting almost any shade of peonies.
The more the merrier makes for a colorful combination. Peony 'Mme Ducel' holds her own along with self-seeded Digitalis and ornamental Amaranth, with Peony 'Clown' in the background at the right.

Picking flowers for bouquets is a fun way to determine what goes with what in your garden.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Scent in Your Winter World

Beginning with tulips and ending with late-blooming tropical plants, I love to have scent in my garden. I try to scent my indoor world during the winter as well. On a warm and slushy day last weekend I was drawn outdoors in boots and clippers.

I carefully snipped the leaves off stems of the Hamamelis virginica, or witch hazel. This species, with its subtle flowers that bloom as early as January, has trouble letting go of its leaves, covering up the flowers, which are hard to notice anyway.

What isn't hard to notice--outdoors in mid-winter--is the flowers' fragrance. It's not strong, but is unmistakably fresh.

I also removed some crossing branches, some of which had flowers. I brought them in and put them in a vase. The warm indoor temperatures coaxed the flowers to open, adding just a little something, a bit of je ne sais quoi to the air. When you put flowers with a subtle scent into a small room, entering is a wonderful experience as the fragrance doesn't hit you as you enter, but gently reminds you that it's there.

Plan ahead for next winter by picking up a potted citrus plant next spring. They've become more readily available at independent garden centers, and go for anywhere from $20 to $40.
January, 2013--its first winter.

I purchased a potted Clementine called Fina Mandarin in spring of 2013. It bloomed off and on during the summer in its patio location, but it had a lot of competition in that scenario.

Citrus flowers aren't very large, but their fragrance is unmistakably "orange blossom," a sweet, tangy scent that can transport you to Florida citrus groves in winter. Some citrus is perfect for pot growth, and have been designated as such.

According to a site called site called Citrus pages, by Jorma Koskinen of Finland, this clementine cultivar was imported from Algeria into Spain in 1925 and is the one from which most Spanish clementines originated.

Realistically, keeping any kind of citrus happy over several years in a pot inside your house for the winter isn't likely. Eventually they'll succumb to a host of conditions ranging from scale and spider mites to root disease.

January, 2015 - still happy in its third winter indoors.
But you can get three or four years out of them if you feed, prune and care for them outdoors before bringing them in for the winter. If they need to be repotted, do it in the spring so they have time to settle in before they're brought indoors. If they're happy and healthy, you'll have that beautiful scent in January.  I think it's wort it.