Sunday, November 30, 2014


Fallen baldcypress leaf frozen in concrete birdbath

This November's unusually sudden turn to freezing weather has left many deciduous trees, shrubs and vines looking rather disgusting. My lilac is a nasty mess. Some of the now limp, blackened leaves of my big-leaf and panicle hydrangeas are still clinging pathetically to their stems. Not so, however, for the leaves of my climbing hydrangeas, which turned a very pleasing butter-yellow, then dropped of their own accord before the big freeze. The foliage of the autumn-blooming clematises appears a bit battered, but the fluffy, white seed heads are sweet and friendly-looking. Succulent sedums look tired. Iris fans look spotty. Heucheras and heucherellas look anemic. Wire vines are dying back unexpectedly. In one nursery pot I have a baby baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), which is still holding onto most of its rust-colored leaves. We know that at least one leaf has fallen. There it is, now frozen in the birdbath. The birds fight over the berries of nearby trees and the cats have to come indoors for a drink. A muddy field of bootprints and puddles has become a frozen network of ice lattice and intricate bubble patterns. Ready or not, winter is coming to the garden.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fish Flowers & Fragrant Corpses

The goldfish plant (Nematanthus gregarius) is still blooming! Once it got going last summer, it never stopped. It's always got at least a couple of blooms on at any given time. Today there are a dozen or so. I frequently take cuttings from this plant, as they root extremely fast in a glass of water and they make pretty darned good houseplants. They don't seem to be picky about light or water and they put up with a lot of neglect. Now to see if I can get the babies to bloom ...
Meanwhile, I have a new garden-themed Halloween decoration! Hemlock's Nursery is the "home of rare and exotic, carnivorous plants." The dead branches that I put in the background were pruned from a rosemary plant (Rosmarinus officinalis) that is probably suffering from being pot-bound in its outdoor container. Even dead and defoliated, the rosemary branches give off a lovely scent when you touch them. Mmm ... fragrant corpses.

Do you do any garden-related decorating for Halloween?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Take Me Back to the Bark & Garden Center!

Hubby and I went to the Bark & Garden Center in Olympia, yesterday. I can't believe I'd never been there before. It's so big! And open year-round, seven days a week. Bliss! I went looking for Golden Creeping Jenny, a popular trailing groundcover that seemed perfect for a container combination I'm working on. I was pleased to find exactly what I was looking for, plus copper plant tags and an orchid pot. It was nearing closing time when we arrived and we were already tired from other shopping, so we didn't stick around long enough to see even half of what they had to offer. Sigh.

This morning while cooking breakfast I found myself singing these words (to the tune of Take Me Back to Toyland):

Please take me back to the Bark & Garden Center
I'm so much happier there
It's more than a lark at the garden center
Where dreams, just like plants, can be shared

Yesterday's little haul was pretty sweet. The groundcovers were about three bucks apiece. Not a fantastic price, but pretty typical. I bought the plant tags for labeling tall bearded iris rhizomes. In addition to copper tags, they had zinc and wood and plastic in several sizes. The orchid pot is a five-incher that seemed the right size for one of the oncidium orchids I recently bought at Trader Joe's.

I just love garden-related shopping. Hubby and I spent an entire day at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in February. We got there hours before opening time and we stayed until my eyes had glazed over and my legs were actually giving out. I'm so hard-core.

If I can go back to the Bark & Garden Center
With its acres of plants to see
All my day would be spent at the garden center
What a wonderful day that would be

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

So Much to Look Forward to

Since I'm feeling THANKFUL for autumn
weather and things to look forward to,
here's a picture of one of my new orchids ...
with flowers that look like TURKEYS.
This summer was a big, hot, disappointing mess. It was consistently too hot to work outside in my completely exposed yard, so I got discouraged and let things slide. Now I've got a bunch of crispy, dried up nursery plants and a big, do-it-yourself hardscaping project that I'm desperate to finish before Halloween. I don't have much to show for my efforts this year, but the lessons are staying with me. That shit's priceless. Fortunately, I also have plenty of garden-related events to look forward to. Soon there will be a new issue of Garden Gate in my mailbox. Then there's the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in February. My Japanese pieris shrubs will be in bloom in March and I now have dozens of spring bulbs that will be blooming in April. Knowing that I have these things to look forward to helps keep my spirits up when things aren't going well. Also, I'm not dead just yet. So, now that the weather has turned decidedly toward coolness and rain, there's a good chance I'll get that hardscaping project done after all!

Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eight-Legged Garden Helpers

Don't worry! There aren't any images of spiders in this post.

It's okay. They make me squirm, too.

I've always been a little afraid of spiders. I know they're not really dangerous (most of the scary stuff I've heard about spiders is actually bullshit). Spiders just give me the willies.

Since I bought a house, though, I've been working hard to control my fear. In fact, I'm pretty sure the spiders are all a lot more afraid of me than I am of them. The bigguns just make me ... uncomfortable.

The thing is, there are just so many thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of spiders living with me on my property that I always run into a few or a few dozen when I'm outdoors doing yardwork (or indoors in August while the male house spiders are feeling bold and looking for loooove). So, I feel that I ought to get along with the little buggers and appreciate the pest-control work that they do in the garden.

Today I came across a big ol' web in a sunny shrub bed where wood mulch, rocks and a few applewood logs are haphazardly arranged below my 'Bloodgood' japanese maple. I had to relocate part of a small orb-weaver's web in order to get close enough to photograph this one. I have to do that a lot. Those little orb-weavers are such opportunists. Their beautiful, wheel-shaped webs get in my way all the time. They don't seem to listen when I tell them to go weave elsewhere.

This web stretches a couple of feet from a small terra cotta pot sitting on a rock down into the rarely-used gravel and urbanite path below. It also attaches to a young azalea shrub and some heavy rocks. I think my eight-legged buddy must have been pretty happy with this plot to have invested so much sweat equity in its development. It appears to be the web of a funnel-weaver. I find their webs frequently in the lawn. They look pretty on a dewy morning. This one, though, is so large and contains so many delicate layers of scaffolding that I don't think I've ever seen any others in the yard quite like it.

Here you can see the funnel entrance between the rocks. The nocturnal resident of this web was undoubtedly chillin' in its shady retreat while I was taking real estate photos of its place. I didn't see any tasty buggies tangled in the strands, so I hope somebuggy's feet get caught up this evening when the spider comes out expecting to have a bite.

Grass spiders, garden spiders, house spiders ...
Brown ones, orange ones, green ones ...
As long as they stay out of doors to weave their webs and chomp down insects, we mostly get along okay.

Sometimes, when I am working where there are piles of wood and dead leaves, I accidentally spook the shit out of a very large brown spider and, in its panic, it either freezes out in the open like it's hoping I can't see it if it doesn't move, or it runs for cover as fast as its eight legs can carry it. Unfortunately, it always puts itself right where I don't want it to be.

Like the little, velvety brown spiders that just love hiding under smooth river pebbles. As soon as I uncover their sanctuary, they always run toward my work area instead of somewhere that's actually safe from my spade and my gloved hands. Have you ever tried herding spiders? It is not easy. They do dumb things when they're panicked. And they never listen. Even when they're headed in the proper direction they don't move very fast, so I end up waiting around awhile. I'm just trying to give them a chance to get away, the silly things. I don't like to squish somebody who doesn't mean me any harm.

How do you get along with your eight-legged garden helpers?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April ... Flowers!

It's well and truly spring here in the Pacific Northwest. Have some flowers!

More blooms after the break!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Garden Therapy: Japanese Maple Edition

... And then something lovely happened.

I was standing under this Bloodgood japanese maple when it decided to say hello. A breeze was blowing through, rustling the canopy and pulling invisible strings to animate a low branch. First the branch gave me a soft pat on the head, which caused me to look up. Then it stroked my face, making me smile. Then the breeze gained strength and the branch began to dance, leaves tickling my face and making me laugh.

Japanese maple tickle therapy. What a wonderful world.

This japanese maple's story of rebirth

I guess the Bloodgood has forgiven me for being a crappy caregiver last year. It was a poorly thought-out Home Depot purchase. Overpriced and under-cared-for, poor thing. The branches were all twisted around each other and heading for the sky in an unattractive way, like it had been crammed in so tightly with other nursery stock for so long that it hadn't had room to stretch and spread and acquire that graceful shape that these trees are known for. Quite a bit of dead wood, too. Plus, I didn't keep it adequately watered through its first summer in the ground. Amateur mistake. This tree had a lot to overcome.

A couple of weeks ago I squished my way across the yard to this maple with loppers in hand. I had no intention of pruning any living wood. The tree was leafing out nicely and it was easy to identify all of the dead wood. That was the stuff I was after. The thing is, there was so much dead wood that by the time I was done, the canopy was only half the size it had been previously. Woah. The poor tree had really suffered last year.

I even had to figure out how far back to cut a branch that was thoroughly orange and dry with death, but had completely fused itself to a living branch that it was crossing. I ended up making the cut an inch or so above the self-grafted point, and at a clean 45-degrees to help water run off instead of sitting and soaking into the dead wood. I have no idea how quickly the remaining dead wood will rot, but I hope very much that the living branch it's stuck to will continue to thrive anyway.

After all this tree had suffered, I'd figured it would take many long years before it could develop any kind of grace. But you know what happened once all the dead branches were gone and I stepped out from under it to have a look?

The tree was beautiful.

The remaining branches were few, but they were the ones that had managed to stretch and spread in that classic japanese maple way. The multi-tiered structure that just wasn't there before had suddenly been revealed. From the ashes of a winter of abuse and struggle, this maple had sprung ... into brilliant life and loveliness.

Fucking phoenix, this tree.

Garden Anxiety: Japanese Maple Edition

My Sango-kaku (coral bark) japanese maple appears to have a couple of bleeding cankers near the base of the trunk. The blood started flowing weeks ago and I have been making worried faces at it ever since. The bleeding has since stopped, but I still worry that the wounds are being invaded by evil buggies, or that said wounds are just symptoms of some much more terrible malady that will end up killing my beautiful little tree. Beyond frowning a lot, I have no idea what to do. It's likely there's nothing much that I can do, anyway.

There's that worried face, again.

Also, the Sango-kaku's leaves seem reluctant to unfurl completely. Related issue? Or am I just being impatient and paranoid? This tree gets more shade than my other japanese maples, so perhaps the slow-motion leafing-out is to be expected. Yeah, that's probably it.

But maybe it's something else. The Tamukeyama is out in the sun and it too is being a bit slow to leaf out.

But maybe that's because this is the Tamukeyama's first spring in the ground.

But the Bloodgood and the Viridis are having their first spring as well and they're fully leafed and dangling little flower babies and everything!


... And where the hell is my new issue of Garden Gate? I need garden porn therapy and I need it now, dammit!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bring Out Yer Dead!

Something is definitely wrong with this poor little tree. The branches are all brown near the trunk.

Shall we have a closer look?

Bleaugh! This tree is diseased! The needles look all rotten and they're actually turning black—oh my god, it has the plague.

... Aaaaand it's attracting flies. That cannot possibly be a good sign.

Oh, holy hell. This fly has fucking DIED. Is my tree toxic to FLIES now?

This fly is still alive and it looks EVIL.

That's it. I'm cutting it down and tossing it in the trash.

... Later

Fortunately, I had a brain wave and grabbed a large, stiff plastic shopping bag and upended it over the tree, then severed the trunk just above the soil level with my loppers. Floomp! Over went the felled tree onto the pavement, still neatly contained in the plastic bag. Nice and impersonal. I didn't even have to touch it. I tied off the bag and dumped it directly into the garbage can, then swabbed my loppers with rubbing alcohol. When you get the plague, you gotta keep it contained. Too bad the garbage truck has already come by today. I guess the corpse will just fester in the trash can for the next week. Poor plague-ridden thing. It had been one of two cute little blue spruces planted in urns that flank my garage door. It's a shame to break up the set, but if I hadn't disposed of the mostly dead one, whatever nasty disease that was plaguing it might have spread to the other tree—or worse!

Ah, well! Shit happens.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring's Most Exciting Buds

Climbing Hydrangeas

Last year I planted four climbing hydrangeas (H. anomala spp. petiolaris) in front of my porch. This year three out of the four are developing flower buds! Why is this so exciting? Well, from what I've read about climbing hydrangeas, they are famously slow to flower. I had already prepared myself to wait several years for those pretty white lacecap florets. Now I won't have to! I am so pleased that they are happy where I've planted them. I put a lot of thought and research into my choice of plant for this particular spot, but now I feel confident that the plants themselves agree with my decision!

Front Porch Plan

My house is an ugly little mid-century ranch house: one story, boring symmetrical faces with small windows, vertically striped siding. The porch is a narrow concrete slab spanning the front wall. Door in the middle. Four pressure-treated 4x4s appear to hold up the roof. No railing. No columns or pillars or decorative millwork. Trust me when I tell you that it's a sad-looking front porch to come home to. Current budget and skill level won't allow for much in the way of improvements, but I came up with a plan that I think will hide the ugliness of the existing structure with additional supports and a painted latticework facade. The lattice should bring the face of the house forward while still allowing light and air into the covered porch area. I hope to have it all completed by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the hydrangeas have been establishing themselves in their sleepy first-year way. (First they sleep, then they creep, then they leap!) Give them a couple more years and they will shoot up that lattice wall and cover it with bright green leaves and tiers of lacy white flowers. In the winter the leaves are gone, but the peeling cinnamon-colored bark is revealed. They really are lovely plants all year round.

New flower buds on climbing hydrangea, almost one year after planting!
... Aaaaand an orange cat in the background making a silly face.

Plant Points: Hydrangea anomala spp. petiolaris

  • Hardiness zones 4 - 8
  • Deciduous woody vine
  • Climbs by clinging with aerial rootlets, not by twining
  • Grows up to 80 ft. long/high
  • Can climb up walls, fences, arbors and large shade trees
  • Can ramble across the ground as a shrubby groundcover
  • Lateral branches grow up to three feet outward from trunk
  • Prefers moist, well-drained soil; tolerates clay
  • Part shade to full sun
  • White flowers in summer
  • Blooms on old wood
  • Exfoliating bark in winter

Monday, March 10, 2014

Photos from the 2014 Northwest Flower & Garden Show

Here, finally, are photos from the annual Northwest Flower & Garden Show, which Hubby and I attended for the first time last month. Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in thoughts of how I might apply what I saw to my own garden that all of my efforts were directed toward note-taking, in both text and picture form. All of these photos were taken with my phone and were intended to be used for reference, not for display. Despite the low quality of my photos, the show really was something to see. Be there next year and you'll know exactly what I mean!

More photos after the jump.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Black Bugs With Red Markings

I went out to take photos of emerging leaves and came across this little monster. It took a bit longer than expected to identify this guy on the web, but I eventually prevailed.

This is a "Bordered Plant Bug"
Largus succinctus

The bordered plant bug does eat juicy plant bits, but general consensus seems to be that it won't do too much damage to the garden as long as it doesn't show up in huge numbers.

Interesting to me is that the bordered plant bug is so similar to both the box elder bug (Boisea trivittata) and the red shouldered bug (Jadera haematoloma), both of which I came across in my research on the goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata). Red shouldered bugs in particular are so attracted to the goldenrain tree that they are sometimes referred to as goldenrain tree bugs. They are also commonly despised by people who have these unique and beautiful trees near their homes. It seems the biggest problem with all of these black and red buggies is their desire to overwinter inside your house. Then they crap all over your stuff and ... well, you get the idea.

So, this bug is more of a pest than a pal, but there are way worse bugs to worry about. I'm going to file this one under Nuisance: Kill on sight but don't begrudge the ones that get away ... and don't invite them in for tea.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Precious Snowfall

This right here is the first considerable snowfall we've had all winter! I'd better go knock some of that snow off the delicate branches of my upright juniper before the weight splays them out too far. My skinny little potted bamboo is looking rather weighed down, too. Fortunately, most of the plants in my yard don't mind a little snow accumulation. This weeping Norway spruce is all bent over because it was trained to grow that way. The snow only accentuates the shape. In fact, this little tree has never looked more beautiful to me than it does now.

Ah, snow!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Not Exactly The Garden Show

Wednesday was the first day of the Northwest Flower & Garden Show and Hubby and I had tickets. I drove us up to Seattle that morning and promptly got us caught in the Seahawks parade traffic. Just exiting the freeway took a ridiculously long time. By the time we'd gotten downtown, all of the parking garages were full. All of them. Vacant parking spaces had ceased to exist ... and probably hadn't existed for hours. Without anyplace to leave our car, there was just no way we were going to get to see the garden show that day. Hours of unplanned-for travel time had already been subtracted from the total amount of time we would've been able to spend at the show. The first of the seminars I'd wanted to attend had already started. The show was going on without us! And here we were, barely moving but unable to stop.


Eventually, I found myself turning a blind corner onto ... a northbound ramp to the freeway! Freedom regained, Plan B was suddenly born. To the University Village we would go. To drink tea and eat gourmet cupcakes and peruse the shops until we got bored. Our tickets were still good for any one day of the garden show. We could go tomorrow! Everything was going to be just fine.

... And while we were at the U Village, we saw what goodies Ravenna Gardens has to offer in the wintertime. We pored over the heucheras and the hellebores and the ferns and the false cypresses. We flipped through the books on hiking and vegetable growing and backyard chicken raising. We admired the fancy gardening tools and the artful glass containers and the expensive potting sheds. Ah, what luxury!

Then we snapped pictures of a few of the container plantings around the Village before we headed back home to sleep. See? It was like our own little garden show ... just not the garden show.

Ferns 'n' stuff. A warm-looking combo in the bright sun of a freezing winter afternoon.
Evidence that heuchera can be a great filler and spiller in a container. Bit of a purple theme here.
Christmas camellia, ivy and black mondo grass. Great contrast.
Hellebores aaaaand ... not sure if those are dogwoods or japanese maples. Brilliant neon winter bark, anyway.

Then off home and to bed we went, plans for the morrow planted firmly in our minds. Goodnight, Seattle! We'll be seeing you again very soon.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reading is Good

Love books. Books are good. Reading is good.

We built a reading nook into our living room for doing just that. It has a bookcase and a comfortable armchair and a carefully positioned wall sconce for the best light to read by. There's a basket for magazines and catalogs and there's a handy side table with a big removable tray top for tea and biscuits and pencils and Post-it notes. There's also a clock on top of the bookcase, but it's hidden behind a big stack of gardening books. You don't want to see what time it is. You want to focus on your book learning—or your interwebs learning! Hubby even installed an electrical outlet with laptops in mind. Hubby learned his electrics from a book. Now he knows how to do stuff with the magic lightning in the walls.

Obviously, big knowledges come from books, so I have been building a collection of books on plants and gardens and landscaping in an effort to absorb aaaaall the big knowledges of gardening. Then I will become green-thumbed genius. Yesss!

I also like looking at the pictures.