Category Archives: Trees

New Variety—Scarlet Torch Bottlebrush




I love the foliage on this bottlebrush shrub.  It’s almost between a conifer and a deciduous plant, smooth and shiny green. And evergreen.  I like it and I didn’t even get to see the beautiful flowers, which are crimson red and larger than other varieties. This plant is sold by Monrovia and grows in zones 8-11. It’s compact and grows eight feet high and 10 feet wide.  Also, it is said to be non-drooping.  I don’t know what’s wrong with a little droop now and then, but I guess too much droop is a sign of weakness.  ‘Stand up straight young plant and we’ll sell 5000 of you this spring, become droopy and it’s off to the half price lot for you!’  Little pruning is required to keep it’s dense form and it is tolerant of poor and rocky soils.  This genus is native to Australia.

Snowbell Song


Last week the blossoms were just opening on the Snowbell tree, or Styrax japonica.  The bees were humming through the air, the sun was sparkling….it was a glorious day!  I was so excited to immerse myself in in the world of  the snowbell tree, so I tried to capture the moment with this video.  My novice video-taking skills leave much to be desired, but I think the tree still stands out during this perfect time.  It was the perfect time too, for the next day I walked by and many of the flowers had already faded and fallen to the earth.  One day they were fresh and creamy white and the next they were tired and finished.  I’ll never forget my first encounter with a snowbell tree when I moved to Washington State.  I had never had the opportunity to meet one before, because the timing has to be just right. On this day I was walking through my neighborhood taking my daughter to school.  We had just walked below the canopy of a leafy green deciduous tree and I happened to look up.  I was surrounded by bells!  By snowbells!  Thousands of beautiful bright blossoms were dancing all around me! It was a joyful experience and from then on I would say that one place I could always find happiness was under a snowbell tree in June.  And yet the moment is so fleeting and that’s the way it is with many plants, and sometimes people too.  The timing has to be just right to see them at their very best.  So pay attention!


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?

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

Washington’s Best Kept Secret

This is what people think about Washington—It rains all the time, the skies are always gray, everything is gray, we all wear gray polar fleece and disappear into the fog, hibernating most of the winter.  Don’t let out our little secret, but this is what it’s really like in Washington in January.  There are flowers, bright and beautiful, teasing us out of winter. I just took these pictures today at the Washington Park Arboretum and I wish somehow I could capture their scents with a photograph.  It was brilliance! Sweeter than sweet. Sparkling and rich. Delightful, fresh and transforming. Unforgettable love at first scent.

Which winter flower is your favorite?

Baby Monkey

Monkey Puzzle Tree Seedling

Monkey Puzzle Tree Seedling

Now that I’m working at the Horticultural Program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology I have access to a greenhouse.  The students grow all types of crops, from vegetables to fuchsia baskets to perennials.  The season is in full swing and I’ve been learning a lot about greenhouse growing.  Everything is different inside.  Watering and controlling pests and diseases takes on a new perspective from inside a 65F greenhouse.  Some of the students have been trying to germinate the seeds of Araucaria araucana, the Monkey Puzzle tree.  It took about two months, but just a few of them have begun to sprout, and they are so cute!  Tiny little baby monkeys coming from a surprising seed.  This tree is so pokey and sharp that it was said to  be a puzzle for a monkey to climb it.  I first met this tree in Spreckels Park in central California.  It grows directly over the childrens playground and not a good tree for tender little feet.  The branches dry up and fall off onto the sand and are as sharp as a knives.  A dangerous tree in that respect.  It’s also rather pokey in the nursery and best handled with care.  The monkey puzzle tree is dioecious and has separate male and female trees with the female producing edible nut-like seeds.  Unfortunately, this tree is listed as endangered in it’s native Chile due to fire, logging and grazing.

Just the Facts
Araucaria araucana    Monkey Puzzle Tree or Chilean Pine
Height 50-80 (15-24m)
Width 20-30 (6-9m)
Zones 7-10
Full sun
Native to Chile and Argentina