Category Archives: Garden

Germinating Meconopsis

img_8321Growing this blue poppy is joy. True blue happiness.  I was delighted when my first Meconopsis bloomed last May. The color is a shimmering radiant blue that reflects the heavenly color of the sky and sea. It’s such a contrast to all the others flowers around that one can’t help but fall in love with this flower. As soon as mine bloomed I was already planning to collect the seed and propagate this precious gem. I waited for May to turn to June.  It produced three or four flowers during this time.  Each one was cause for a celebration.

This plant was new to my yard and the flowers surprised me. Like an unexpected guest. A surprise visitor.  Who could knock at my front door and visit me and produce such delight?  A professional athlete? A movie star? A president of our country? No, these people would be interesting but they wouldn’t bring me as much joy as Meconopsis. So as my poppy grew throughout the summer I kept watching the flower head, waiting for it to dry out so I could collect the seeds. Finally in August I couldn’t wait any longer and I cut open the three pods and teased the seeds out.  I put them in a little plastic box and they sat in my house until December.  I had instructions from the Rhododendron Species Garden where I purchased the plants the previous year.  The instructions said specifically ‘after collecting the seed, place in a ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator until sowing in November or December’.  Well I kept thinking about my little tiny Meconopsis seeds during the Fall and I even thought about the refrigeration part, but I never actually put them in there.  To busy, too tired, life was running too fast.  It’s hard to garden when you’re moving too fast. Plants don’t move at that pace. They force us to slow down. They make us look up.  They help our fingers dig deep in the earth. Thank you plants.

So in December I took my little seeds to the greenhouse and sowed them onto a flat of soil, very lightly covered with soil, and put them on the heated and lighted propagation bench.  I remember the instructions said that they grow like weeds, so I had high expectations. One week went by and nothing. I was disappointed, but not worried. Two weeks went by and I began to panic slightly. Three weeks went by and I thought this project was doomed. No more Meconopsis for me. My dream of a yard filled with blue poppies was dead. I was almost positive that the seeds were dead and done.  I was so distressed that I called up the Rhodie Species Garden and spoke with someone. They again confirmed the process for storing seeds: collect late summer, place in ziploc bag and put IN THE REFRIGERATOR or they will dry out and die.  He told me my seeds probably died, all dried out.  Noooooo I thought.  I would have to wait until next year and try again.  Could I wait that long? One season of plant life is like a seven of my years!  I wanted more seeds now! UGGGHhh.  I almost tossed out my seeding flat, kicking myself for not following the formula exactly.  I have a hard time following instructions exactly.  Usually I prefer to make up my own instructions as I go. But sometimes that doesn’t work so well.

Fast forward to January 9, an ordinary day in the greenhouse.  I was zipping around, watering, scouting for insects, helping students, etc… when I stopped in front of my Meconopsis flat.  It looked the same, just soil. Nothing. I kept staring at it. Look closely I told myself, you never know. Maybe the Rhodie Species Garden Guy was wrong. Maybe those poppies were tougher than we all thought. Just maybe…wait!  Did I see GREEN?  WAS THAT A TEENY TINY LITTLE LOVELY STEM EMERGING? Yes! They germinated!!! I could hardly believe it.  On Monday 4-5 tiny little seeds opened, shoots up and roots down. Cotyledons showing promise of a beautiful perfect poppy.  I was so excited. I know some plants take a long time to germinate, but these guys really made me nervous. And now it’s Wednesday and I counted about 20 tiny little shoots shyly poking their heads out of the soil. I’m on my way to a poppy garden. Oh joy!

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Watering

Now that the hectic pace of spring has come and gone, it’s easy to think that all the hard work is over.  The planting, fertilizing, trimming and clean-up are all complete, shouldn’t we just sit in our Adirondack chairs and gaze serenely at the garden? We can’t forget one of the most difficult tasks a gardener faces, summer watering. With our Northwest summer drought, plants need consistent and thorough watering to grow and stay healthy.

I’ll never forget a Myrica californica that is growing in the arboretum.  When I first noticed it a few years back it appeared healthy. The leaves were green. It had new growth, but it was small.  We added irrigation to its bed and within a year it had doubled in size.  After two years it has tripled in height and width.  It’s a changed plant now, like it has a new breath of life with regular and consistent watering. I see its potential.  It’s interesting that we might think a plant is doing just fine.  It’s green.  It grows a bit every year.  And then suddenly when all its needs are met…wow! It can take off.

There are many methods available, sprinklers, watering cans, drip irrigation and in-ground irrigation systems with timers.  Water is a precious resource and we should always be thinking about conservation.  Setting up a home irrigation system such as drip irrigation may seem complex, but is really quite manageable. The main thing to remember is that plants prefer a thorough deep watering to a light superficial sprinkling.  When we spray the surface, the soil may appear dark and moist, but underneath the roots have no moisture. We have to allow time for the moisture to reach the root zone. Water when the soil dries out, more often when it’s hot and less when it’s cloudy and cool.

It’s happened so many times.  I think I’ve watered a container really well, whether a small four inch pot or a large patio container. I might have to dump the soil out or dig into the container, and I’m shocked to find out it’s dry at the bottom!  A good method is to water a container until the water runs out of the bottom.  I also like to give a container as much water as I think it needs.  And then do it again. Give it twice as much.  If the soil is too dry it can become hydrophobic and it takes a long time to absorb the water.  Then the container will have to be watered two or three times.  Over-watering can be a problem too, but only if the soil constantly remains wet and is never given the chance to dry out.

Planting similar groups of plants together can also help conserve water.  Annuals and big leafy perennials take more water than established shrubs and trees.  Keeping them in separate beds will make watering easier. Many of our Northwest native plants are tough and drought tolerant, but remember this is only after they have had a few years to grow a good root system. So when you add any new plants, even if they are ‘drought tolerant’, remember to water for the first two summers.  Mulching is a good idea as it helps retain moisture. Rhododendrons are usually ignored all summer, but these plants will really benefit from a consistent supply of water. Remember, a healthy plant that has been well watered and fertilized will more easily fight off insects and disease. Just like us, if we aren’t getting enough sleep or eating well we tend to get sick. So enjoy your summer garden and don’t forget to give your plants a drink. And then do it again.

Blackberry Trellis

Definition of a weed: any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted.  Most people would think that Himalayan Blackberry would fit into this category.  And usually they would be right.  It grows all over Western Washington, forming dense, impenetrable thickets, with canes that reach 10-20 feet long.  It was these long canes I was considering as I pondered my new raised vegetable beds.  I needed a support for my peas, for my beans, for the cucumbers and maybe even tomatoes.  We had recently moved and there were plenty of blackberries to choose from.  They were long and flexible, eagerly reaching  into trees and shrubs all over the yard.  As we hacked at them, I decided to put them to use and build a trellis for my veggie beds.  I used a soil corer to create a hole about 10 inches deep, into which I pushed the canes.  The canes were wedged between the concrete of the beds and the soil and have been quite stable.  We reinforced with a few cross pieces and hung some string for the plants to climb.  As the canes aged they turned brown and hard, providing a good support.  I left the thorns on thinking they could provide more surface area for the climbers.  I plan on planting my cucumbers soon to replace the peas when they finished.  Let’s make those weeds work for us!  What else can we build out of blackberry canes?

 

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Dan Hinkley’s Top 25 Plants

Last week at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show there were some amazing seminars and Dan Hinkley was one of the best.  He presented this list of his top 25 plants, or the plants he will always have in his garden.  I’m excited about these plants, especially my favorite, the Dove Tree!  Check out some old favorites from the Pacific Northwest as well as the strange and unknown from the far corners of the world.

Pacific Northwest Natives
Erythronium revolutum   Glacier Lily
Camassia leitchlinii   Quamash
Arctostaphylos densiflorus   HE McMinn Manzanita
Arbutus menziesii   Pacific Madrone

Pink Fawn Lily

Glacier Lily

China
Davidia involucrata   Dove Tree
Magnolia wilsonii   deciduous and fragrant
Sassafras tzumu   Chinese Sassafras
Stachyurus salicifolia ‘Sparkler’   Winter Spike
Hamamelis mollis   Chinese Witch Hazel
Hydrangea aspera   Plum Passion
Hydrangea angustipetala   Golden Crane fragrant
Mahonia   Lionel Fortescue
Helwingia japonica and Helwingia chinensis   ( berries form on leaf blade )

Herbaceous Perennials
Beesia deltophylla   purple new growth, clumping, evergreen, for shade only
Disporum longistylum Green Giant, bamboo like effect to 5′ in height, non spreading
Cypripedium formosanum  the best terrestrial orchid for use in the PNW
Mukdenia rossii   Crimson Fans, for moist soils, brilliant red foliage color as summer progresses

The Dove Tree

The Dove Tree

Corydalis solida George Baker ( brick red flowers, late winter, spring ephemeral
Cyclamen hederifolilum autumn flowers, winter foliage

Vietnam
Magnolia insignis  evergreen, large pink goblets for a long period in early spring
Schefflera alpinia   Hardy Schefflera (Schefflera taiwaniana from Taiwan )
Edgeworthia chyrsantha   deciduous ‘daphne’ used for paper production

Vines
Holboellia coriacea ‘Cathedral Gem’
Holboellia brachandra white flowers, large edible fruit
Aristolochia kaempferi   (clever pollination strategy of ‘collecting’ living gnats inside flower )

Australia
Grevillea victoriae winter flowers, hummingbird attracting, orange/red flowers
Acacia pravissima evergreen tender, late winter soft yellow flowers, quick to establish
Leptospermum scoparium  evergreen, lovely bark, summer flowers of white

Gunnera

Gunnera

New Zealand
Olearia cheesmanii white flowers fragrant of coconut oil, self cleansing, evegreen
Pseudopanax crassifolius and P. ferox  lancewoods with long narrow foliage with clever protective strategy from predation by Moas

Chile
Embothrium coccineum  Chilean Fire Tree
Drimys winteri ‘Pewter Pillar’
Gunnera chilensis  Giant Prickly Rhubard  (herbaceous perennials with enormous foliage )
Lobelia tupa  Red flowers on tall stems, highly attractive to hummingbirds

South Africa
Eucomis pole-evansii   giant pineapple lilly
Melianthus major ‘Antanow’s Blue’  Giant Honey Bush
Agapanthus species and cultivars, Lily of the Nile with late summer flowers of rich blue
Dierama pulcherrimum   Wand Flower
Rhodocoma capensis   a hardy ‘Restio’ grass relative with graceful arching stems of evergreen foliage to 5′

Helwingia japonica

Burma
Cymbidium iridioides

Building the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

Today some students from our school (LWIT)  helped build the display gardens at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show.  It was fascinating to see the gardens created from the ground up as 15 foot bamboo and mature trees and massive stumps and boulders were brought in and carefully placed.  Today was a day of building.  Walls, patios and ponds were constructed. Yards and yards of mulch and sawdust was spread.  Huge trucks and forklifts were beeping and buzzing around.  Drills and hammers were going as the gardens began to take shape.  We were just beginning to put a few plants out in the garden I helped at.  The work goes on until Tuesday and then the show opens to the public Wednesday morning.  A lot can happen in four days!

Is Your Frozen Shrub Dead?

This is article, written by Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty, has some great information about winter injury on shrubs.

A Word about Our Cold Spell from Cass Turnbull…
 
After suffering through an extraordinary cold spell here in Western Washington, many garden owners will want to know what to do about the damage to many not-completely-hardy shrubs.  The leaves of broadleaf evergreens commonly turn brown or black and eventually fall off after cold weather. The plants themselves are probably still alive. To check, use a hand-pruner blade to peel back a little bit of the skin to see if the cambium layer just beneath is alive (green) and not dead (brown).  If alive, it’ll probably flush out with a new set of leaves.  So don’t panic if you shrub looks dead.  Wait and see.  How long?  By June you will have an answer.  Those that can put on a new set of leaves will have done so by then.  If you can’t stand the sight of the stricken brown shrub until June, try running your hands along the branches to knock the brown leaves off.  Then, the plant will look deciduous, not dead.

By the end of August, the final report will be in.  Freezing weather sometimes does internal damage that doesn’t show up until after the stress of the summer drought.  A shrub may look okay through June and July, but then, while it is pumping H2O like crazy trying to keep up with the heat demand in August, some portions can collapse, and you will see die-back. (The non-scientific explanation is my own and may be a little, well, anthropomorphic.)

Many evergreen shrubs that suffer freeze damage, such as escallonia, will die from the tip back.  These shrubs respond well to radical size reduction, which in this case means big ugly cuts to the point of green wood.  The plants will break bud just below the cuts and many new green-leafed shoots will rather quickly grow out to hide the cuts and provide you with a revived plant by the end of the growing season.

Should we get snow, branches of some plants (choisya, for example) will split, break, or splay flat to the ground due to snow loading.  In early spring, get your loppers out and whack everything back to 4″ to 6″ off the ground.  Yes, it’s really okay.  I promise.  I have done this thing many times.  As soon as the growing season begins, the majority of cut plants will spring into action.  As the renovated shrubs grow up, pinch them back every so often to encourage branching and thickening.  By pinching, I mean a very light heading, just nipping the end bud of each branch with your fingernails or hand-pruners.

So if your evergreens that are looking bad, be patient–wait and see.

 

Fantastic Flowers for the August Garden

As we head into late summer in the garden we begin to see a slow transition.  Gone are the dewy daffodils, the misty meadows, the bright spring show of giddy annuals.  Arriving is the dry earth, the baking sun and the crowded garden where annuals get pushed out and perennials take center stage.  If your petunias are petering out or your geraniums have been dead-headed one too many times, do not despair!  There are plenty of flowers just now starting their show.  They have been biding their time, growing, waiting, soaking up fertilizer and sun, giving us this end of the summer encore.  Radiant blossoms are waiting in the August garden and here are a few!

Rudbeckia or Black-Eyed Susan is the bright golden daisy that blooms late summer into fall.  The flowers are clear yellow to orange and attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, which are extremely useful in keeping pests down in the garden.  They grow best in full sun and reach a height of 1-3 feet.  A happy flower!

Hydrangea Paniculata or PeeGee Hydrangea forms cone-shaped flower clusters which begin white and fade to pink over time.  This hydrangea blooms on new growth each year so it is easily pruned and shaped. Cutting it back will not stop flowers from forming the following year, which may be the case with big-leaf hydrangeas. Most of the varieties sold locally form a large shrub which prefer regular water and full sun to part shade.  One of my favorites is Vanilla Strawberry, which turns a pretty, pretty pink!

Hardy Fuchsias are fabulous flowering machines.  I keep looking at mine wondering how such a small plant can produce so many flower buds…they just keep on coming from late spring until the first frost.  Unlike the annual fuchsia of hanging basket fame, these varieties can grow in our Pacific Northwest zone 8 soil, in partly shaded sites.  The pendulous blossoms of pink, white, magenta and red are hummingbird magnets.  This shrub grows 1-3 feet, but don’t cut it back until spring for reliable re-growth.

Pennisetum or Purple Fountain Grass is starting to bloom, finally!  It reminds me of a saying I once heard about grasses.  ‘First they sleep, then they creep and finally they leap!’  The one I planted this spring seemed to be frozen in time for two months. I saw very little growth.  And then suddenly, it’s growing and gorgeous!  This annual grass only lasts one season in our climate, but it’s worth the wait for the beautiful shoots of purple foliage and soft seedy flower plumes that rise up from this graceful grass.

Echinacea or Purple Coneflower is another daisy-like flower in shades of purple, pink and red.  The birds love the seeds and the bees love the pollen on this one.  Echinacea have a long bloom season and make excellent cut flowers.

Roses, need I say more?  This traditional flower with its famous fragrance and velvety petals is a garden stand-by.  After the first flush in June and then a short rest, many roses are now producing an abundance of flowers again.  With our dry summer weather, black spot and other fungal diseases become less of a problem and we can enjoy the tremendous variety that the rose family has to offer us, like one of my favorites, Julia Child, with its butter-yellow creamy dreamy blossom.
Make your way down to your local garden center, pick out some of your favorite summer flowers and extend the garden bloom!  Which ones are your favorites?