Category Archives: Veggies, Fruits and Herbs

Growing edible plants.

A Promising Winter


January begins with fireworks and resolutions.  The first day is bright and promising, but by mid-month we grow tired of the gloom, the ice and those dark after-dinner dog walks.  Have you ever tried to pick up poop in the pitch black nothingness? It’s tricky.  But a walk through the school arboretum reveals wonderful textures and surprising colors.  It reminds me that the plants keep growing.  Some of them even put on their best show without the distraction of lush green foliage.  The textures and lines are distinctive and startling.  I love the little seed balls that hang merrily from the Dove tree, like decorative ornaments left over from Christmas time.  I admire the twists and turns of the contorted filbert, snaking it’s way around like a puzzle.  I adore the evergreen Salal, our Northwest sturdy native with it’s prizewinning green.  And the witchazel  and Dawn Viburnum give me the promise of Spring.  January does have it’s moments.

 

 

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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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.

Rosemary

iphone 274Rosemary is blooming true blue right now.  Many flowers are described as blue, when they are actually purple, like the rose “Blue” Girl!  There are a handful of beautiful blue blooms…meconopsis, delphinium and ceanothus…these have colors to match the sky on a clear summer day.  But Rosemary is about the sea.  The name is latin for ‘dew from the sea’ and brings to mind the azure waters of the ocean on a sparkling day.

Rosemary is native to the mediterranean region and wants little to moderate water.  If over-watered or over-fertilized the plants will become woody and unattractive.  Wet, poorly drained soils in winter can be fatal to this plant.  When we think it was the cold, it possibly could be the clay soil and poor drainage that winter-kills this plant.  The leaves of rosemary are intensely fragrant and a little bottle of these leaves is probably found in the majority of kitchens across America.  It can be used to flavor butter and added to lamb, pork and chicken, as well as a variety of vegetables.

Just the Facts
Rosmarinus offincinalis   Rosemary
Zones 8-10
Full Sun Little to Moderate Water
Attracts Flowers, hummingbirds and Bees
Evergreen, Culinary Uses
Height 1-8 feet (.3-2.5m)
Tolerates drought and deer

Dr. Peter Raven Lecture—Conservation and Biodiversity

Dr. Peter Raven

This week I attended the Miller Memorial Lecture by the esteemed botanist and conservationist Dr. Peter Raven, President emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden.  I was captivated from the beginning to the end.  Held on the University of Washington campus, the lecture lasted just over an hour.  The title was ‘Conserving Plants in a Changing World’, but this dialogue was less about plants and more about our changing world.  I was expecting more plant information, like when he spoke about the changes in plant growth in Missouri over the last several decades due to global warming.  Hibiscus that used to die back, are now growing into trees, etc…   Nevertheless, I was fascinated with his well-spoken words and profound message:  The world is changing and we need to do something to slow down the negative impact our species is having on the environment.

He said that the inequalities between the western world and less developed countries are serious.  He showed a photograph that I’ll never forget.  A typical family, like you would find in America or Europe, and how much food they eat in a week.  It was all spread out on a table and benches, filled with fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, cheeses, pizza….an abundance.  Then he showed a picture of an African family and the food they consume in a week.  A few sacks filled with grain, some fruits and vegetables.  It wasn’t much, it was surprisingly little.  The disparity between the two families was startling.  It was a stark reminder of how much I use, how much I take and how much I think I need.  Suddenly I didn’t feel like complaining about my small house and lack of resources.  They suddenly seemed plentiful.  Here are the images from the book The Hungry Planet.

Family in Chad, Food expenditure for one week $1.83

Family in Germany, Food expenditures for one week $500.07

Ecological Footprint

He stated that of all the living species on the earth, humans use 45% of the photosynthetic productivity and 55% of the fresh water.  He joked that if one species would disappear (ours) extinction wouldn’t be so much of a problem!  He discussed our ecological footprint, or the measure of humanity’s demand on nature.  Our current footprint is over the earths bio-capacity, or we are using four times as much productivity as the earth has to offer.  One site he referenced with further information is footprintnetwork.org whose opening page states, Do we fit on our planet?

Dr. Raven spoke about our dependence on biodiversity.  All of our food and many of our medicines come from plants, yet in the United States 90% of our food comes from only 103 kinds of plants.  There are many others that are not being utilized or haven’t yet been discovered.  He stated that every species matters.  Two thirds of the people in this world use plants for medicine.  Willow was developed into aspirin, warfarin was first isolated from moldy sweet clover and is used as a blood thinner.  But as we all know, besides helping us survive, plants also offer us simple beauty and spiritual refreshment.  We need them!

Why are so many species disappearing so fast?  Habitat loss, spread of invasives, hunting and gathering, global warming and deforestation, to name a few.  Many of these have consequences that we never imagined, like droughts and wildfires from global warming and destruction of our forests from pests such as the emerald ash borer.  The emerald ash borer is an invasive pest from asia which has killed between 50 and 100 million trees in North America since it’s accidental introduction only twenty years ago.  He said that our nation has allowed science to become political, such as the discussion over global warming.   Science simply presents the facts and tells what is happening.

Dr. Raven disclosed that there are 375,000 plant species named and 75,000 awaiting discovery.  I’m not sure how scientists came up with that number, but I believe it.  There are many living things in this world still undiscovered, terrestrial and in the oceans.  To help preserve biodiversity and save plants there are many things that we can do.

  • Set aside natural areas as reserves, especially those with altitude changes.
  • Go out in the field and learn more.
  • Preserve endangered botanical species.  Traditionally we would grow plants and put them out in nature.  Now seed banks are becoming popular because of climate change.  Seattle has the Miller seed vault.
  • Conserve energy and consume less.
  • Teach children about the wonder of nature and biodiversity.
  • Limit global warming.
  • Use alternative energy.

Even though I have heard this message before, Dr. Raven spoke with such intelligence and passion that I look at the world differently now.  I’m ready to pick a few of the suggestions above and make a few changes in my life.  Which ones will you pick?  He closed with this quote:

The world provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.  —Ghandi

Fireweed in Alaska

Beautiful Blueberries!

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Blueberry ‘Reka’

This variety of blueberry is one of the best.  Reka has a sweet and rich flavor.  It produces lots of berries even when young, and even when in a container, like mine.  Reka was developed in New Zealand for it’s vigor and adaptability to a wide range of Northern climates and soil types.  Berries are medium in size and delicious.  Tomorrow, blueberry pancakes!  What is your favorite blueberry?