I just planted my garlic and I’m so happy to be part of its story. I got it from a friend who had it from his father who kept it from the grandfather who came to our country from Czechoslovakia traveling through Ellis Island around the turn of the century. This garlic has been around. It started in central Europe, was carried to Michigan and now ended up in Duvall, Washington. From all reports it’s an easy and fun crop to grow. Resistant to pests and disease and useful medicinally and in the kitchen, I’m already a garlic fan. Just as I was planting it this November I still had a rose that was blooming, Zephirine Drouhin, a fragrant, thornless climber. I don’t know why, but they seem to go well together, roses and garlic. One sweet, one savory. One colorful, one plain. Both full of layers. Garlic, the world’s healthiest food, roses the world’s best loved flower. Good companions for the garden.
The best thing about gardening in the Pacific Northwest is our year-round climate. We don’t have to put our tools away for the winter, but instead can discover the many options available for color and texture during the cold season of the year. Here are a few of the containers I’ve put together for October through March.
This year my favorite plant for the cooler months are ferns. I love the height they give to a ctontainer, as well as a beautiful vibrant green. I’m experimenting with the Himalayan Maidenhair fern, Adiantum venustum, to see how it takes the cold, I might have to do some clean-up or even swap it out with something else if it dies. I’ve also used Sword Ferns, Polystichum munitum, Alaskan Ferns, Polystichum setiferum, and Tassel Ferns Polystichum polyblepharum for a variety of texture. Pansies and violas add that bright pop of color and other plants I use are Heucheras, Hebes, Juncus, Grasses, Hellebores, Ivy and Vinca.
Something new for me this year is underplanting with bulbs. I’ve added daffodils and tulip bulbs around the larger plants and grouped in the middle. I’m hoping that in the early spring this will give the containers a new breath of life and hold them over until it’s time to plant summer annuals. And then the planting begins again.
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.
Growing 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!
I’ve often wandered through gardens in November thinking, ugh, it’s all dying! There is nothing beautiful left as the cold and the rains disassemble the plants, breaking them down and washing away the vibrant color and energy of spring and summer. At first glance it seems to be true. What is special about November? A birthday, Thanksgiving, maybe the first snowfall? But on closer inspection the changes happening in the garden are filled with color and life. Here are just a few of the reasons why I love November.
Arbutus menziesii, or the Madrone tree, is a beautiful tree native to Western Washington. On a recent trip to Orcas Island I didn’t see any Orca whales but I kept spotting this amazing tree. The most striking feature is the cinnamon red peeling bark in contrast to the young chartreuse green bark. The leaves are evergreen, alternate, oval and leathery. The flowers are white, urn-shaped in large clusters, turning to orange-red berries enjoyed by birds. This tree is not often found in the homeowners landscape, but it occurs naturally on dry, sunny rocky sites, especially around Puget Sound. Arbutus means Strawberry Tree in Latin and menziesii is in honor of Archibald Menzies, a Scottish surgeon, botanist and naturalist.
I’m especially intrigued with the green bark. It’s so vivid and bright. I wonder about photosynthesis and what the advantage is to the tree to have such stunning bark. Bright green to red to peeling away. And then ready to start all over again. I like this tree.