All Shades of Green—-A Plant Perspective


Rhododendrons Uncovered


A quick trip to the nursery last week led to an exciting discovery.  I usually pass right on by the rhododendron displays because we have so many of them here in the Northwest.  Hundreds and hundreds….thousands…millions…there are a lot of rhodies around here!  But these drew my attention immediately because of their striking differences.  The Makinoi rhododendron has beautiful lanceolate, almost linear, leaves.  They make a striking contrast to the soft and fluffy light pink  flowers.  The Orbiculare on the other hand has lovely round obovate leaves and purple bell-shaped flowers.  Flowers that resemble a campanula more than a rhododendron.  Both are pretty plants and would make a nice addition to a collectors garden.  Two distinctly different evergreen leaf shapes for the garden, oh the possibilities!



Just the Facts
Rhododendron makinoi      Makinoi Rhododendron
Height 5-6 ft. (1.5-2m)
Native to Japan
Zones 6-8
Part shade, organic, acidic soil
Flowers light pink, funnel shaped, late spring
Underside of leaves tomentose (densely hairy, soft and matted) and lanceolate

Just the Facts
Rhododendron Orbiculare    Round-leaved Rhododendron
Height 5-8 ft (1.5-2.5m)
Native to SW China
Zones 7-9
Part Shade, organic, acidic soil
Flowers purple campanulate, early spring
Leaves 4″ orbicular

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Fresh New Growth—Yum!



Today as I was admiring the fresh new growth on my Japanese Maple and saw something disturbing.   The buds were just breaking open with our warming April weather, unfurling delicious colors that were vibrant with life.  It must have been a signal to the Japanese Maple-eating pests, the dinner bell was ringing!  There were little black dots all over these new leaves. Black spots on the tips of the branches.  Upon closer inspection I noticed that they were soft and easily scraped off.  Unfortunately the leaves were so tender that it was hard not to damage them as well as I tried to remove the little black bugs.  As I looked closer at the photo and did a little research, it seems that they may by some type of black aphid.  Could it really be aphid season already?  I’m not prepared for this!  I have been winter lazy, thinking everything was hibernating still.  But spring is here!  Even though I’m still wearing sweaters and dashing through rain showers, the pests are right on schedule.  Tomorrow I’ll try and pull off more of these little black bugs and watch them for a while.  The tree is small enough that I can easily take care of them without sprays.  What do you think?  Have the aphids arrived?


Spring Flowers

A walk around the LWIT  Arboretum showed off these beautiful spring flowers.  Today I decided there is so much work to do in spring that it should be spread out over the year.  What if we put April in August and March in November?  Maybe I could get everything done.  But we have to leave May in May because it’s the center of spring.  Spring is made of soft colors in pastel shades.  Spring is dewy and fresh. Spring is shy. It peeks out and if the sun is high enough the flowers unfurl towards its warmth. Spring is my best friend.









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The Magnolia Walk

Magnolia stellata

Star Magnolia

Star magnolias are in bloom and I’m spotting them everywhere.  Since we’ve moved into our new house in the backwoods of King County, we’ve started exploring the neighborhood.  It’s always fun to walk around a new neighborhood and check out the plants.  While my kids are staring at the dog in the driveway I can’t take my eyes off of the well-placed alpine fir.  Others might be interested in the size of the house, but I’m interested in the size of the garden….are those grow boxes? Look at that nice mulch!  I can’t believe they planted those Leyland Cypress two feet apart!!! Every walk becomes a review of sorts.  An assessment.  What kind of neighborhood am I living in?  Is it the typical Northwest rhodies and heather look?  Maybe with an occasional sword fern thrown in?  Or is it the manicured sheared hedges, lot of evergreen balls and squares?  The landscrapers have been here! Often it’s overgrown.

Once in a while there are delightful surprises.  Like the other day on a walk we passed a yard that made me pause.  There was a small metal sign placed on a Douglas Fir that proclaimed it a Certified Wildlife Habitat.  Of course I had to stop and look.  I’m always curious about trees with small metal signs.  I wonder what the tree would proclaim if it had a sign nailed to it.  Maybe ‘Dog Free Zone’ or ‘Oxygen For Sale’ or ‘Hug Me’?  Or perhaps a tree doesn’t really have to talk, it’s sufficient to just be, if you are a tree.  So I was curious about this sign and this yard that was before me.  I looked and saw a large open meadow filled with Grand Firs.  Odd, to have so many grand firs together, a typical homeowner might plant one, perhaps two.  But in this landscape there were ten, maybe fifteen grand firs.  Suddenly I remembered a regular customer from the nursery that I worked at that bought just that many grand firs.  I remember loading them into his truck.  Week after week he came back for grand firs.  As I continued to scan the yard I saw a beautiful wooden birdhouse custom built by another employee at the nursery.  I knew that this customer loved wildlife.  Then I started to recognize a whole lot of plants that this customer has bought over the past five years.  What a fun surprise to find my old friends only half a mile from my new house!  It was like a mini family reunion.  ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you for years, look how you’ve grown! Your needles are a beautiful glossy green, which vitamins are you taking, N, P or K? Yes, I’ve got a new job now and miss all our friends at the nursery!’  It brought a smile to my face to see this happy familiar garden.

Since I’m a regular walker, I like to have designated routes in the neighborhood.  This way I can plan ahead how long I am going to walk.  Maybe I have time for only the short loop, or I might want to go all-the-way-around for a long walk.  And of course I need to name these walks.  Just as I like to know the names of plants, I like to name my walks.  So the walk to the customers house with the little metal plate became the ‘grand fir walk’.  The short walk down the next street over has several beautiful star magnolias, so it’s now ‘the magnolia walk’.  A few streets over there’s a barn with the sign ‘Get R Done’ so now we have the get-r-done loop. Somehow it makes exercising more exciting, and it’s really fun to say get-r-done.  It’s time to start writing more…get-r-done!

Star Magnolia

Star Magnolia


“I Am Vertical

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them–
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
The the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.

“I Am Vertical”, 28 March 1961”
― Sylvia PlathThe Collected Poems

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Spring Ephemerals

Spring ephemerals.  I love this name.  It makes me think of wildflowers and dragonflies.  Tissue paper and birthdays.  Raindrops and  moonlight.  The name refers to those short-lived spring flowers that make a momentary yet glorious appearance in the early spring and go dormant in the summer.  Trillium is a well-known spring ephemeral, but there are many others that I was recently introduced to at the 2014 Northwest Flower and Garden Show.  I went to a talk by Susie Egan of Cottage Lake Gardens and her enthusiasm is contagious.  I only bought one plant at the show and it was the erythronium pictured below.  My first spring ephemeral!

Just the Facts:

Erythronium revolutum      Fawn Lily, Trout Lily, Dog Tooth Violet
Zones 3-9
Natural Range: Pacific Northwest
Soil: Moist to summer dry, humus rich, well drained
Light: Part shade, sun
Height: 6-12 inches (15-30cm)
Attributes: Deciduous. Clumping. Showy white flowers with yellow and orange-red center. Shimmering silver mottled foliage.

The following list of spring ephemerals is from Susie Egan of Cottage Lake Gardens:

Western White Trillium, Trillium ovatum, Harbinger of spring and beloved native wildflower often brings back fond childhood memories of spring in the woods, fragrant white flowers that age to pink/purple.
Giant Trillium, Trillium chloropetalum var. giganteum, Stunning trillium native to California with flower most commonly in burgundy red colors, difficult to find but worth the search.

Fawn or Trout Lilies
Pink Fawn Lily, Erythronium revolutum, Elegant pink flowers with golden anthers and golden rings within, beautifully mottled strap leaves.
Pagoda Fawn Lily, Erythronium tuolumnense ‘Pagoda’, Popular hybrid (cross between E. Tuolumnense and E. californicum ‘White Beauty’) pale yellow flowers with highly visible reddish brown central ring with yellow anthers; glossy, deep green leaves, readily available, easily grown and very vigorous, taller than other Erythroniums.

Shooting Stars
Dark Throat Shooting Star, Dedecatheon pulchellum, Western native from the North Cascades, most floriferous, magenta flower with large white spot and dark ring at base, the tube is yellow here joined and has purple-black near tip, loves moisture.
White Shooting Star, Dedecatheon meadia forma album, Such a cute wildflower, this is the white flowered form of the eastern pink shooting star, flower looks like a shooting star, nose cone and all.

Wood Anemones
Robinsoniana Wood Anemone, Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’, Popular cultivar with slate-blue buds that open to pale lavender blue with golden stamens.
Vestal Wood Anemone, Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’, White with double white pompom in center, the ‘Belle of the Ball’, very popular and always sells out at my plant sales.

Single Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, Called ‘bloodroot’ because its roots contain a red-orange sap used as a natural dye by native Americans, has fragile daisy-like flower with yellow center and distinctive deeply lobed leaves.
Double Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex (syn. S. canadensis ‘Flore Pleno’, Exquisite double white flower with waterlily-like appearance, worth seeking out.

Hacquetia epipactis, The cutest plant! Small, unique yellow flowr with chartreuse petal-like bracts that later turn green. A real charmer.
Hacquetia epipactis ‘Thor’, A variegated cultivar, a treasure if you can find one.

Pasque Flower
Pulsatilla vulgaris, Blue-purple, red or rarely white flowering perennial with hairy stems and foliage and dramatic fuzzy seedheads.
Pulsatilla vulgaris cultivars, P. vulgaris ‘Red Clock’-red flowers, ‘Alba’-white flowers, ‘Papageno’-frilly, feathery flowers.

Merrybells or Bellwort
Uvullaria grandiflora, Eastern wildflower that has yellow dangling twisted flowers about 2 ft. tall, looks nice massed in natural groupings with blue spring blooming perennials.

Vanilla Leaf
Achyls triphylla, Wonderful native deciduous groundcover with leaves that look like butterfly wings and white bottlebrush flowers, slow to get established but eventually forms a beautiful colony. Hard to find considering it is a native plant.



Erythronium ‘Pagoda’


New House New Plants!


Out with the old, in with the new!

I haven’t posted anything for a while because we moved! There have been boxes to pack, boxes to unpack, furniture to arrange and furniture to rearrange.  And meanwhile lunches have to be made, dinners prepared, schedules shifted, kids picked up and dropped off and work Monday through Friday, 7:30 to 4:00.  You know, life.  We only moved a few miles, but into a more rural area with lots of opportunities to garden! I have inherited a garden that hasn’t had much attention for a while.  Blackberries invading over the fence, ivy crawling up the trees,  and really scary….horsetail sticking up among the salal!  But I’m not really scared, I’m excited!  I can do this.  Pruning? No problem? Planting, placing, protecting? Can’t wait.  I took so much dead wood out of this hydrangea we could have enjoyed a nice bonfire.  My favorite part of the new garden (after the weeping willow) are the four grow boxes in the back yard in full sun.  I haven’t had a full sun back yard since my California days over ten years ago.  I’ve started weeding and soil prep and hope to start planting some spring veggies in the next few weeks.  I’m really looking forward to growing food for our family this year.   My other project I’m impatient to start is getting my 15 roses in the ground.  I dug them up from the old place and stuffed them in pots.  They need a new home, but I’ve got a whole lot of weeding to do before I plant them.  I have to find the perfect spot for Julia, Zephrine and the Pope.  And Chicago Peace and Gourmet Popcorn and all my other friends that have graciously followed me here to Redmond, Washington.  Happy Spring!


An Interview With Kirsten Lints, Garden Designer

Nature's Studio

“When you learn things yourself without being taught you learn it even more deeply.” Kirsten Lint

My favorite garden at the 2014 Northwest Flower and Garden Show was designed by Kirsten Lints, CPH, Gardens ALIVE Design.  Her long hours and hard work paid off, her garden won the best in show, or Founders Cup, as well as many other awards.  The garden was sponsored by WSNLA and WALP, two Washington State Landscape Organizations. The garden install was led by Rob Boyker, owner of Avid Landscape.

From the first time I saw her design on paper, I knew it was something special. Her garden is called ‘Nature’s Studio’ and these are the characters: Edgy, urban artists retreat to the cool and dappled shade of the forest garden ‘studio’ where they find inspiration and recharge. It is late spring, the weather is warming, and their forest garden is alive with brilliant fresh foliage, tender flowers, and succulent vegetables.  The ebullient sound of falling water and birdsong provides an animating soundtrack for their work. Various organic forms of art are rooted throughout the garden, displaying the couple’s talent, artistic history, as well as their passion for found treasures that inspire them.

I talked with Kirsten at the show to find out more about her and Nature’s Studio.

Elaine: What is your background?

mushroomsKirsten: I knew that being a high school science teacher would not work with having children. When my kids were in elementary school thought it would be fun to draw plans and see what could come of it.  I did a years work for some friends and each design was in exchange for a cup of coffee.  It was fun, with some really memorable things. Then I thought, if I could do it in a year for a cup of coffee, maybe I could make some money.  I took a master gardener training class, but felt insecure. I didn’t know if I had talent. I didn’t have credentials. I didn’t have training.  I read a lot of books and took an online course to fill the holes in my education. When it comes to design, I am mostly self taught.  When you learn things yourself without being taught  you learn it even more deeply,  and then when you’re taught it, you’re reassured in what you know.  When you create the wheel rather than the wheel being handed to you, you know that wheel. There are parts of design that I have a stronger understanding for  because I had to create that understanding.

My husband is a bridge engineer and does lots of drawings.  Once he saw my drawings and said ‘you should charge for this’.   I didn’t feel comfortable charging because I didn’t have an educated background.  So to begin with I decided to charge for my designs and donate the money to the school garden.  I began by charging a low price and started with anyone that was willing and interested.  I felt more and more comfortable every step of the way.  I began to gain more clients by word of mouth.  It was purposeful movement and planned steps.  Yes, I am a CPH. I knew I absolutely wanted to take the test and told myself, ‘If I fail I should not be doing this’, but I passed the test with flying colors.  I had no idea I could memorize all that and I felt reassured about what I was doing.

Elaine: You should have lots of confidence after winning the best in show this week.

Kirsten:  I feel better.

stumpElaine: Tell me about the Stump.

Kirsten:   It came in three pieces from Elma, Washington by Carter Evans Woodworks.  They helped with the stump, stuffed moss and stayed through-out the entire build.  We had this stump in mind from the very beginning.  It was the best stump if we wanted to go big.  It was already in 3 pieces, making it possible to transport.  Several months ago one of my volunteers took a drive to Elma to look at the stump.  It was carved and rounded out with a platform added for the tree. There is some real artistry.  It was fun.  Installation of the stump and garden is on a documentary video created by Vince Smith, part 1 and part 2.  The veggie garden is another great part.  It’s a specific educational piece, being a part shade veggie garden.  We started it in September. Normally at the show we see little starts of vegetables, but we wanted this to be bonkers, including a root cellar and mushrooms.    We were hoping for producing vegetables, their colors specifically matched to the garden.

Elaine: How did you end up working with Rob?

Kirsten: Rob Boyker and I have an uncanny coincidence in our backgrounds.  We both received botany degrees from the University of Washington at the same time.  We both served in the Peace Corps.  We both started businesses at the same time.  Strange beginnings.  I did not want to design a garden this year.  I didn’t think it was in in the cards, but WALP called and asked if I would consider working on a garden with Rob.  At first I was not interested, but they said, ‘just talk to him’.  When we found out about our parallel lives, we knew that we needed to do this. We worked together well and all of my decisions have been passed by Rob.

Elaine: Tell me about the You & I sculpture.

Kirsten: You and I is on many levels.  Our spaces need to incorporate other people. This garden is designed for two artists.  Also Rob and I and our  parallel beginnings.  Also the two associations, WSNLA and WALP cooperating together. It’s their first collaborative garden. Fist bump.

Elaine: What is the high point of building this garden as well as the low point?You & I

Kirsten: I love working with the people.  It’s the teacher part of me.  I enjoy mentoring people, saying things like, that looks fabulous.  It looks like you’re having a challenge, lets figure this out. What is your idea?, I love your idea, you own it .  I tried to keep a great spirit in the build. There is no facade in who I am, it’s about having a good attitude.   And being positive and being flexible. Letting people choose parts of the garden. Letting students create.  I told them, whatever you create I know it will be beautiful.  The teacher training helped with that, and being in the Peace corps.  The Low point was the root cellar.  When I put the canning in the cellar I was quite anxious and very nervous about it.  This is where everyone will say ‘what the hell are you doing?’  It’s crazy, it might be a little funky, it’s a stretch and what if it has a backlash? I thought it would be pretty with light coming through. I picked out special jars with colors that would enhance the garden.  I put a lot of thought into it and it was very challenging.

Elaine: What have you learned about yourself?

Kirsten:  I’m a better leader than I ever knew. With teaching, empowering and the spirit of being positive. I could sense from people what they needed and could help to keep things going well and help problem solve.  I didn’t come in with that plan, it just came through.

Elaine: What’s your message?

Kirsten: Do what you know and love.  Be authentic.  I want people to live, love, enjoy and find purpose in their landscapes. Some landscapes are just visual, but I think you get more love when you are interacting with your landscape.

Nature's StudioElaine: What’s next for you?

Kirsten: I need to build a house. ( And design your own garden? I asked... Done!)  Keep business going.  I had hopes that my income could help the family.   I’m trying to find a balance with family and work.  I shoot for up here, I always strive for that high.  If I get down here, I’m happy. But I shoot for up here.  I grew up on a wheat farm and drove a combine at 16, and a truck at 14.  There has been a lot of pressure during this build, and it helped to have the chaos of my former life to make this smoother.  I was surrounded by welding, machines and mechanics, I’m familiar with it all. All the machines and noise of the build didn’t bother me. I enjoy it all , even the mesmerizing sound of the chainsaw.  There are harder things in life than this.  This is tough and I would say this has many levels of challenge, but there are harder things.  It was an amazing process and will continue to go smoothly through the take-down.  I’m not thinking of the future, just concentrating on the present.

Elaine: Did you have fun with it?

Kirsten: 110 percent!

For more information on this beautiful garden, including plant lists and art suppliers, please visit the WSNLA website.


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