There’s an event every August in Portland, Oregon called Farwest. People come from all over the Western States and beyond to see what’s growing at the nurseries, what new plants are about to hit the market and to share information about greenhouse growing. The last piece is what really interested me. I soaked up information from the experts like Suzanne Wainwright-Evans, the Buglady, and Paul Koole from Biobest. Learning about growing plants always leads to learning about their pests. In greenhouse growing we are using insects to control the pest insects. It’s called biocontrol and it works! But it’s a dynamic system and not easy to predict, so I’m constantly learning and gaining new insights into the intricacies of using bios. A lot of exciting things are happening in this field and I hope to share some of them in upcoming posts.
Some of the displays are so creative, like this baseball themed showcase from Little Prince Nursery. One of the best parts of the show is to see what’s new. What new tools are on the market for growing plants, what new colors the calibrachoa are sporting and especially what new plants are making their appearance. A few of the new varieties that were the most popular were Mesa de Maya Southwest Oak, Sweet Tea Gardenia, Corydalis Porcelain Blue and Burgundy Lace Hazelnut. The Oak has blue-gray leaves, grows to 25′ and can thrive in dry as well as irrigated sites. Sounds like a perfect plant for NW landscapes, I look forward to seeing it in the nurseries. The gardenia is supposedly winter hardy in our area. I can’t wait to test that out, since the scent of this plant is in my top three favorites, top five, top ten….oh, there are too many sweet plants, pungent plants, sharp citrus, rosey fresh plants in this world. I can’t narrow down the top ones. This gardenia would make a wonderful addition to Washington gardens. I know already I need one. The corydalis has electric blue flowers and blooms spring through Fall, who could ask for more? The hazelnut boasts that it alone has lacy, cut foliage, red leaf color and resistance to European Filbert Blight. The new growth of the leaves are beautiful and it grows to 35′. As always Portland has great food, good friends and a wealth of information. I’ll be returning next year to Farwest.
On a recent early morning outing to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens I enjoyed seeing the winter garden. The plants that really stood out for me were the grasses. Most were drying and golden brown, but the texture and shape was outstanding. While many plants drop their leaves and disappear below the frosty substrate, the grasses are standing tall. They are moving and sparkling in the sunlight. It seems as if the earth is inhaling and exhaling, like the air rushing out of the a whale’s blowhole. The earth is spouting grasses! They haven’t melted into the earth, but rather are upright and true, greeting the distant winter sun.
Miscanthus ‘Gold Bar’
Other plants were noticeable for their berries, fruit or flowers. Camellias are a sure bet for the winter, but I was surprised to see this Daphne still in bloom. The rose hips were shiny and bright and are a great point of winter interest. These were from a white rugosa rose.
Finally, winter would not be complete without the beautiful and graceful silhouette of a Japanese Maple. Normally hidden from view, winter is the time to admire the searching stems and breathless branches of Acer palmatum, one of my favorite trees.
Any garden with a large wooden squid swimming through a field of grass is my kind of place. I’ve always had a fascination for these slippery cephalopods. It began with those stories of the giant squid that lurked in the depths of the oceans. As a kid I imagined huge monsters, as big as my bedroom with large glowing eyes and night black ink. I pictured oversize mollusks with their tentacles wrapped around a sperm whale, tooth versus beak. Later as a young adult I encountered them while snorkeling in Bermuda. It was just me, floating lazily through that bright blue water when in front of me, suspended in the sea, was an eye. Clear and knowing, just floating in the water. Upon closer inspection I noticed more eyes, and then slowly the squid bodies came into focus,they seemed to materialize out of nowhere, their camouflage was perfect with their counter shading and chromatophores matching them exactly to their liquid surroundings. I’ll never forget those eyes in that blue Bermuda water. And then later, after marriage and a couple of kids came along it seemed only natural to call them squids. Especially when they were perhaps getting into deep water I would yell “you squids, get out of the garden, your’re stepping on the beets!” or after a long day with the little ones I would sigh in exasperation “those squids, they’re exhausting!” but sometimes before an adventurous hike I would rally the troops with a call of “okay squids, let’s go!” It only worked when they were little and slippery, as they grew older the squids made a less frequent appearance and their kid camouflage disappeared. Nowadays my encounters with squid are usually in front of a crispy hot plate of calamari, but I’ll always be on the lookout for the legendary giant squid.
Weeping Douglas Fir
Me and the youngest squid with our hero David Douglas
Today I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful VanDusen Botanical gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s only a few hours north of my home in Washington and what a great collection of plants! Here are a few preliminary pictures from this wonderful garden, including our botanical hero, Carl Linneaus, Calamagrostis and flying squid, and something I’ve wanted to see for a long time, the variegated kiwi vine! What’s your favorite botanical garden? So many plants, so little time!
Visiting my family this week in St. George, Utah has been a lot of fun. The landscape is one hundred eighty degrees different than the Washington view. Here it’s red and dust, there it’s green and moist. Here it’s sparse and prickly, there it’s lush and mossy. The hot sun blazes too brightly in Southern Utah and in the Pacific Northwest it’s a soft warm glow. Here I turn away from the glare and there I raise my face to the sun, soaking it in. I found a fascinating tree on a short walk through the local desert arboretum. The Screwbean Mesquite Tree or Prosopis pubescens has a unique seed pod. It looks like a fat screw, or a plump insect larvae. The Mesquite is the most common tree in the desert Southwest. Like other members of the Legume Family, it’s a nitrogen fixer. Finally I found out how these plants can survive in this dry, dry climate. The Mesquite has a taproot that can be larger than the trunk. Because it burns slowly and is smokeless, mesquite wood is one of the best in the desert. The seed pods are eaten by wildlife and were used by Native Americans for tea, syrup and a ground meal called Pinole.
The Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle is beautiful and rare. The colors, the delicate lines and the immense size of some sculptures captivated me from the beginning. Dale Chihuly is a Northwest native and has created pieces of art on display worldwide. I especially liked the outdoor garden, with the complementary plantings and design. It showcased creative pairings of sculptures and plants. Who would have thought to put the lowly pansy, so common, next to a highly prized Chihuly glass sculpture? The colors of the plants created a harmonious effect next to the glass, so similar, yet so different. An unforgettable experience, I encourage everyone to go!