Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A New Toy

You know you’re a real gardener when you think compost is a fascinating subject. ~Author unknown
I love dirt! I love making beautiful, sweetly aromatic compost and spreading it around the garden. I love raking Autumn leaves onto the garden beds, knowing they will protect roots from winter’s cold and keep spring’s weeds from growing. I love composting my garden trimmings, recycling them back into my soil. I love making my own ‘fertilizer’ since compost feeds the soil which in turn feeds plants. Making my own compost with trimmings (selectively of course) from my own garden protects me from buying chemicals, pathogens or weed seeds that can come with bagged store-bought compost. From piles on the ground to enclosed tumblers (which discourage rodents from living in the warmth of a compost pile) there are many ways to make and contain your pile of trimmings as it breaks down.

The healthiest gardens have dirt that is living. Living dirt is supportive of and alive with the organisms (worms, centipedes, pillbugs, earwigs, microbes, fungi and yes… even slugs) that breakdown organic matter (leaves, sticks, twigs, flower petals) making nutrients available to plants roots. If your garden can match what goes on naturally in the woods, it will be healthier. In the forest the soil is never bare. It is always covered, year-round by the decomposing debris that falls from the trees. Fallen branches, leaves and needles cover the earth and begin to decay. Decaying stumps are important too. Here in my Pacific Northwest timberlands there is a native species of huckleberry that prefers decaying stumps in which to germinate its seeds and take root.

Healthy dirt makes gardening easier and more rewarding. Healthy dirt produces healthy plants. That’s a win/win in my book, so it’s no surprise that I attended a seminar on soil science recently. While much of it I already practice, there is always something new to learn, right?

There was lot of valuable information in this seminar but my biggest take away was this, the value of wood chip as a mulch. Wood chip is not the same as beauty bark, which is just bark. Wood chip contains all parts of the tree or shrub and makes a valuable coarse mulch rich in nutrition.  


Coarse mulches allow water and air to move through it so as not to smother the soil or its living organisms below. I always knew wood chip was a good thing. Even better that arborists look for gardeners to give it away free to but a 20-yard pile of wood chip is more than I can use on my little 5000 square foot piece of property in a single season. But if you can use 20 yards or can share with neighbors and friends, a great source is Be sure to read all the information including the “expectations” page. It is a free service to recipients but understand that the arborists pay for the service so a nominal payment to reimburse the arborist is only fair. After all, $20 USD for a huge load of wood chip is nothing compared to buying bagged mulch and they deliver it right to your designated location.

At the end of the seminar one of the speakers briefly mentioned as a side note that she has a chipper, a small electric chipper. I’ve wanted a chipper for several years but I don’t have much room to store one out of the weather, nor do I want to fiddle with a gas-powered engine. So, my woody trimmings, too thick to chop up by hand, go into the collection bin that the city picks up. Did she say “small electric chipper”? Hmmm. It would sure be nice to have one. Now I am really interested! When I got home, I started looking online for used sources and found 5 right away! All the same type that is no longer being manufactured and in varying degrees of condition from looks-kinda-rusty to looks-pretty-darn-good.

Soooo….fast forward a week. I am now the delighted owner of my very own electric, 14-amp, 120 volt, 3300 rpm, capable of chipping 1½” diameter branches McCulloch garden shredder! Woohoo!! I’ve been gardening since I was about 5 years old. How is it I’ve never had one of these yet?
Turns out there much to learn about my new toy. McCulloch was made in the USA however, this chipper is no longer manufactured, and similar designs are now made overseas so finding replacement parts may be a challenge. I did discover a great source of info on Read down through the comments section of his blog post…it covers conversations by owners of this chipper (affectionately named Chippy) as they navigate the replacement parts journey. Turns out parts are becoming available but they are made in China of possibly poorer quality materials so may wear out more often.

Since I bought it used, I figured the blades would need sharpening. There are four blades to keep sharp. Two comprise the upright one-piece “V” blade and then there are two individual horizontal blades which are reversible, extending their life two-fold. I read several opinions about sharpening vs. replacing blades on Rob’s site above but I decided to try sharpening. I just did a light job of it with a couple of files. It cut through my pile almost like butter. I had a lot of green material so the exit chute plugged once. Then twice I pushed dry material through too hard and fast so it jammed. Clearing a jam requires unplugging it and exposing the blades which is not difficult but takes time away from the work so I think a good rule of thumb is every time I have the cover off, I will also give it a quick sharpening. Sharp blades do the work so I don’t have to and most professional gardeners sharpen the blades of what ever they are using after every job or throughout the job. With more practice I hopefully won’t get a blade jam or plugged chute too often.

 There is so much to learn about composting, soil science and the right and wrong way to apply mulch. I’ve long advocated for naturally feeding the soil with compost and protecting the bio diversity of soil life by not using chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, or beauty bark. In the archives, under the compost label on this blog you can find 5 more articles that I’ve written on the subject. If you find compost, mulch and dirt as interesting as I do, I hope you will enjoy my other articles. I have provided additional resources below so you can educate yourself to your own degree of interest. These links provide answers to questions and debunk myths that circle around the use of woody mulch. I encourage you to read through them.

Thanks for reading!

For more information see…

Another great source for all things garden is…
gardenprofessors .com and 
The Garden Professors page on Facebook is a collaboration of Horticultural Professors from around the USA

In bloom in my garden today: Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Hellebore, Sarcococca confusa, Viola,

Author’s photos

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Work Smarter, Not Harder - Thinking Outside the Box

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.  ~Author Unknown

I’ve often contemplated adding a category to my labels list about thinking outside of the box when it comes to the harder jobs of gardening. I may call it “work smarter, not harder”.

Common thought holds that when a small tree or shrub dies you must dig it out. Or if you want something to be gone you must dig it out in order to plant what you want there.

I once thought that way too. It is how I was taught. But I have done away with that absurd notion and have had 100% success in not digging anything out, whether it be tree, shrub or plant. Not even grass removal where I want a garden instead. Some things are easy to dig, so go ahead and do so if you really want to. However, when it comes to a mammoth Rosemary that has outgrown its space or has become all woody and leggy because it’s once sunny spot is now too shady due to changing light conditions as surrounding tree canopies extend. Or a lilac you carefully kept to a graceful one trunk tree rather than letting it go all multi-stemmed on you, eventually died after 4 or 5 decades, as continual sucker removal does shorten its life span. What about the rhody the previous home owner planted too close to the house, fence or walkway that is now way too big and you have come to hate it for all the maintenance it takes to keep it conformed in size. Yes indeedy, these are all my real-world experiences that have made it essential to find another way to modify a garden bed. I don’t want to dig all that out. That’s a lot of work!

Now if you’ve been following my blog for any time at all, you know I am an organic gardener. The definition of organic gardening is use the least harmful method possible, resorting to chemicals only as a last resort and in a very limited application. That is what I do, so don’t be shocked when you read on.

In each case of the aforementioned lilac, rhody, and rosemary, all of which are quite laborious to dig out by hand and since I don’t have a backhoe at my disposal, (nor would it fit into my tiny back yard) I cut them off at the lowest point of the trunk that my chainsaw can go without digging into the dirt, then carefully apply chemical herbicide to the cut and only the cut.

Oh, did I lose you at chainsaw? Understand, I am not a muscle-bound hulk by any means but power saws are pretty easy to use once you learn how. Yes, I’ve used a regular gas-powered chainsaw when the occasion warrants it (like if the diameter of the trunk is bigger than my thigh or if electricity is not nearby) but I’ve also used a small electric chain saw and I really like using a reciprocating saw (use the shortest blade possible with the largest teeth) to do the job.

I’ve also used a hand saw made for cutting woody stuff in the garden. This is not the same as a carpenter’s saw by any means. A garden hand saw has a short, usually curved, very thick blade with large teeth at opposite angles from each other. This cuts through live wood quickly and easily. If the trunk is small enough diameter you can also use loppers as in the case of the rosemary.

Whatever your method of attack is…once the cut is made and still fresh (like within a minute, so have it ready) I then use a concentrated brush killer/herbicide (yes, chemical…nasty bad business) and apply it only on the cut wood. You don’t need to mix it up in a sprayer and spray…you’ll be spreading more chemicals around than is necessary and will likely kill neighboring plants you want to keep. Just paint it on, full concentrated strength. Use a disposable paint brush or something like that, that you can throw in the trash after.

That chemical will travel down into the root. It will stay within the root/plant material. It will not travel from the root into the soil and affect nearby plants. I promise. I’ve been asked that question many times and the answer is no. My garden proves it. Never has any of my surrounding plants been affected by doing this, but if you tried to dig out the root of the tree or rhody you would tear up so many neighboring plants that you would have a mess to contend with and have to put it all back again and cross your fingers that the uprooted and replanted neighbors survive. I think it’s best to just kill it in place and save the rest of the garden.

Once the tree or shrub is down and the remaining trunk is poisoned you can plant your preferred plant(s) next to it and around it. Over the next few years the old root will decompose but the new plant will be fine and grow and spread (providing you give it proper new plant watering attention). Eventually you will be able to easily pull the decomposed stump out by hand if you want to but it will take years for that, depending on the diameter and wood type, and the other plants will be covering it anyway so you won’t see it. In the case of the rhody stump, I cut it to within an inch of the soil level and about10 years later, while I was weeding around the area, I saw chunks of the stump had decomposed fully and broke off easily. I broke it apart, which was unnecessary as the Pachysandra had covered the area completely anyway, but it was good to see the progression.

So, seeing is believing.

Peer closely. Can you see the now dead stump of the lilac surrounded by spring green leafy growth coming up all around it? Ignore the long strappy leaves of the uncontrollable Wood Hyacinth. After cutting down the tree and “painting” poison on the flat cut, I then planted a one-gallon size of Helianthus “Lemon Queen” in front of the stump. One-gallon size is about a 4"(10 cm) diameter chunk of plant. That was 2 years ago. As you can see the plant spreads by underground roots and has now surrounded the old stump.

In the next photo you can see a picture of how full the Helianthus plant is in summer. I took this photo last summer just as it was beginning to bloom. It will be fully loaded with clear yellow sunflowers by mid-summer that stay well into the fall. No unsightly stump visible.

So, there it is friends. This is not lazy gardening. It is working-smarter-not-harder so there’s more enjoyment in the garden than just plain hard work. It’s the difference between yard work and gardening.


In Bloom In My Garden Today: Ajuga, Bergenia, Blueberry, Brunnera macrophylla, Clematis, Dianthus, Dicentra, Geum phaeum, Hardy Geranium, Heuchera, Hyacinths, Iris, Kenilworth ivy, Lily of the Valley, Oxalis oregana ‘wintergreen’, Rhododendron,  Rosemary, Saxifraga, Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), Tellima grandiflora, Viola

Authors photos

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Feeding Wildlife in Winter

Squirrel, squirrel, burning bright,
Do not eat my bulbs tonight!
I think it bad and quite insidious
That you should eat my blue tigridias.
~author unknown

If you take some time in considering your local wildlife as you plan your garden, you may be able to stop some of the destructive munching that goes on as they wander through by supplying them with a few natural food sources.

In my part of the world, the pesky Eastern gray squirrel can be really obnoxious as they try to get to my birdseed feeders. I have found feeders knocked to the ground and emptied or the squirrels have chewed both plastic and wooden feeders apart to get the seed inside. Strategic placement of birdseed feeders is key as is a metal “slinky” to keep them from climbing up the post.

 Yes, it really works.

Indeed, I pat myself on the back when I can actually outsmart them, and I am equally happy to see them turn their attention to my natural offerings. This happy guy is munching on the seeds still hanging on the Winter Hazel (Corylopsis veitchiana). If the seeds of the Winter Hazel fall to the ground they will sprout in the spring, so if the squirrel eats them in winter that means less spring weeding for me. Winner!

Squirrels also enjoy the berries of the Solanum crispum blue flowering potato vine.

And rose hips! I have seen both squirrels and birds feasting on the tiny hips of this rose during the winter months.

The pyracantha berry is delectable to many birds including robin, varied thrush and starling. I also see the sweet little Bewicks wren flitting throughout its evergreen leaves. I’m not sure if they nibble on the berries but I know they are feasting on bugs.

The beautiful flowers of the Mahonia provide winter nectar to hummingbirds. I have the low growing variety “Soft Caress” with it’s gorgeous palm leaf like foliage. It is mostly done flowering now and at only 12 inches tall, it’s hard to see if any hummers are actually going to it.

I have seen them on a neighbors much taller variety that is at the height of its bloom right now. I don’t know for sure but from the looks of it I believe it could be Mahonia “Charity”.

I do put out suet cakes, Black oil sunflower seed and Niger thistle seed in hanging feeders. I want to attract the birds in winter as much as I do in spring and summer. Not only because I love the joy they share in their song and flight but also because I am an organic gardener, therefore I have bugs that I want them to eat. That is what integrated pest management (IPM) is all about. Less use of harmful chemical sprays, more nourishment as nature intended it.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Mahonia, Primrose, Rosa “Reine de Violette”

Author’s photos

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Raking for Gold

Earth knows no desolation. She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay.
– George Meredith, 1828-1909, English novelist and poet

Happy fall day!
Fall season in the Pacific Northwest is synonymous with alternating bouts of soft rain showers, hard rain, rain deluge, wind, hail, warm-wet storms from the south Pacific competing with frigid northerly winds and more rain. But then the sun will come out and warm and dry us once again. We revel in the beauty of this season as we venture out for our fall walks and absorb the amazingly gorgeous leaf colors that this time of year brings to our little corner of the world.

It’s October. The tree’s leaves reveal their true colors that lie hidden under the chlorophyll as it dissipates with the ebbing sunlight, only to drop as bounty to blanket the ground in glorious color. I love the fall for its beautiful sunny days and the beauty and systematic purpose of creation as it gears down for a long winter’s nap. It also brings the promise of a time of rest for me from what can at times be the rigors of tending the summer garden.

To the savvy and frugal gardener it also means time to rake in the gold!
The gold I refer to are all those deciduous tree and perennial leaves that are beginning to drop. Beautiful, wonderful, nutritious, weed blocking, soil feeding leaves blowing around that land on your lawn and garden beds. If you are like me you purposely planted deciduous trees with small leaves like Katsura and Japanese maple varietals. Small leaves or leaf pieces are faster to decay without smothering and are easy to rake and distribute over your garden beds like a snuggly winter blanket that will become food for your soil by spring time. Food for your soil means food for your plants, which means free fertilizer!

I cannot help but shake my head when I see homeowners and hired groundskeepers blowing leaves away (and into the street only to clog storm drains and cause minor localized flooding…but that’s a rant for another post) or neighbors grumbling as they mow up or rake then dump their leaves into yard waste bins for the city to pick up and haul away. Those leaves go to a compost facility only to be treated like the gold that they are for some months before the compost they become is bagged and sold back to the gardener who then spreads it over their garden. Save your time and money friend. You’ve already done the job of raking it off your lawn, now instead of giving it away, just deposit it over your garden beds and let it do the work of natural decay.

Honestly, can anyone really say they prefer the deafening drone of a gas powered leaf blower over the soft scritch-scritch of a leaf rake? Ever been on a walk, reveling in the beauty of color and sun on a quiet fall day only to round the corner and encounter, well…which would you rather hear? Not to mention the cloud of dust, debris and pollen that blower stirs up…well hello seasonal allergies!

Now that the leaf blower has done its job, the soil is bare once again and awaiting any and all airborne weed seeds to come in for a landing and call your garden home.

Have you ever considered the normal order of the seasons in nature? Rarely if ever, do you see bare soil. The forests annually cover their feet and floor with leaf drop and the meadows clothe themselves with leafy ground-covering perennials. Mostly, where you see a weedy mess is where the ground is regularly swept bare and weeds are allowed to multiply because there isn’t someone or something to constantly monitor or stir up the area.

My entire back and side yard are garden and the only places I have to do regular weeding is along portions of the walkways where foot traffic and breezes push away my annually laid leafy mulch.

My leaf corralling tools are inexpensive and easy to acquire.

1. A garbage can of a size easy for you to handle when full. Dry leaves are very light weight so a full can is not terribly heavy, but if you have to rake leaves between rain showers like I did today, wet leaves can be much heavier so it’s a good idea for your container to be of a size that accommodates your abilities.

2. A spring rake or leaf rake. This is not a heavy plastic rake. This rake has metal tines that are thin, light and springy. They reduce the amount of effort by half (if not more) and actually flip the leaves up rather than dragging them across. Believe me, when you experience the difference you will see the value of this rake.

3. Snow shovel. Don’t you just love the value of a thing that has more than one purpose? I do! It sure saves room in the tool shed. Once you get your leaves into a pile with your beloved spring rake, your trusty aluminum light weight snow shovel is the perfect tool to scoop them and (tilted at just the right angle) pour them easily into your can. With the snow shovel you will get through that pile in no time!
That’s it! One rake, one snow shovel and one can. No gas that needs to be mixed with oil. No running to the gas station because the blasted thing is out of gas. No ear plugs. No straps to keep a heavy gas powered-smoke-belching-engine-way-too-close-to-my-head strapped to my back. No machine that needs to drained of the gas/oil (now-what-do-I-do-with-it) before it gets stored for winter. No electrical cords to trip over or curse at because you just. can’t. quite. reach. Ok…maybe just one little rant. Thanks for indulging me.

So now that my can is full, I pull it (mine has wheels 😊) to where I want and proceed to pour out and spread an even layer over the soil, thus putting it to bed for the winter. Initially those fluffy leaves can be a nice 6-12 inch layer. It will quickly settle to less than half. Care must be taken not to cover plant tops with all these leaves. The leaves (leaf mulch only) can be spread up to the stems of plants and it is ok to cover bare crowns of herbaceous perennials like Asparagus or Hostas once their leaves have died back. 

This should be an enjoyable exercise, not a chore. Consider getting out to rake every other day or so depending on your leaf drop (and the weather of course). You can get smaller amounts raked quickly with a modest amount of effort, equating to regular exercise not to mention the de-stress-after-work benefit. If you leave it all to the end when your trees have dropped all their leaves, much of them will have blown away, losing a valuable resource and the job will be more time consuming all at once making it possibly an arduous task that you don’t enjoy. The goal is not to end up with a five foot pile to deal with!

The benefits of this pleasurable activity are numerous…
  1.  Weed control  so your plants aren’t competing for nutrients with weeds. Weed seeds that blow around from neighboring yards can’t find purchase on bare soil because yours is now not bare and it prevents seeds already on the ground from germinating. And who wants to spend time weeding anyway?
  2. Protective layer for plants root systems that may otherwise succumb to freezing temps.
  3.  Fertilizer. Compost and leaf mulch is well documented for its nutritious benefit to the garden.
  4. Soil tilth. Soil microbes and worms and bugs seek out this decaying matter and turn it into food for your plants.
  5.   Soil health and plant health. See 1-4 above.
  6. Gardener health. Cardio, muscle building (hello abs!)and mental health as it’s so good to get outdoors.
It's WIN-WIN! Fall exercise for your body equates to winter protection becoming spring nutrition for your garden. Does it get any better than that?

Fall time in the garden should be enjoyable, savoring the last days of gardening for the year, putting your garden to bed for the winter and putting potted plants where winter’s freezing temperatures won’t harm the plants or break the pots. If you don’t already, please also consider leaving seed heads on certain plants to feed the birds that winter over in your region. Already I am enjoying watching the juncos feed on the seed heads of Liatris and Echinacea. If you need more convincing, please enjoy my previous post for benefit to less fall cleanup and more time to go on lovely fall day walks and take advantage of the mental healing time spent outdoors can provide.


Side note: If your trees have big leaves that does mean an extra step, because big leaves mat down like plates over one another and can smother neighboring plants and shed the rain off that you want to seep in to the soil. Big leaves need to be chopped smaller then corralled by a method of your choosing. A quick search online can give many options but I think the easiest is running your lawn mower over them with the catcher in place, then spread over your garden beds.
In Bloom in my Garden Today: Ajuga, Aster, Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’ (bluebeard), crocus speciosus (blue fall crocus), Cyclamen hederifolium, Daisy (white double), Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’, Heuchera, Hyssop, Kirengeshoma palmata, Lavender, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ (catmint), Oregano vulgare compactum ‘humile’ (compact oregano), Phygelius (cape fushia), Rose ‘Shropshire Lad’, Rose ‘Reine de Violette’, Rosemary, Salvia garanitica ‘Black and Blue’, Solanum crispum

Authors photos

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A New Adventure

A gardener doesn’t sell their house. They sell their garden and the house happens to go along with it in the deal.
So now the time has come when we decide it’s time to find a new place to live.

It’s hard work moving a garden. Not only physically but it’s an emotional workout as well.

I have been creating this garden for 31 years. Sipping a  cup of oolong as I write this post, I look out to the garden while the bouts of spring rain and bursts of sun jockey for dominance. My beloved space of peace. A safe place where tears have been spilled, laughter has erupted and love has been shared. An oasis. A piece of my heart. A portion of my soul.

 My garden contains treasures from the gardens of loved ones long since passed and from old and new friends, all happily mingling with my own finds. They must go with me, these plants and the memories they release. True, we hold our memories in our hearts and they go with us where ever we go, but as long as I can work the soil I want my garden to be a visible reflection of the mosaic that embodies my life, even if it’s only evident to me.

On the one hand, I want to take it all with me yet on the other hand its healthy to be open to new opportunities, a new future both in a new garden space and in finding plants that I haven’t been surrounded by for decades already. So naturally I am compelled to make a list of my favorite, hard-if-not-impossible-to find-ever-again perennials. Those that simply must come along, never mind that I haven’t even found a new garden space or house yet. I don’t know what light and wind exposures or boundary situations that I will be dealing with yet. I don’t know anything yet. But what I do know is that in some capacity, it must become my new garden.

I have rarities like Geranium ‘Lily Lovell’ that I found on an excursion long ago and have never seen for sale since, two varieties of Hypatica and a finally-I-got-a-bloom-after-10-years (darn slugs) Calanthe tricarinata (Japanese hardy orchid).

Also, I have a few old cultivars. Like Cimicifuga simplex ‘Brunette’ (aka Actaea simplex, Bugbane, Snakeroot, Cohosh) who is harder to find now than ‘Black Beauty’. ‘Black Beauty’ was introduced after ‘Brunette’ but I happen to like the purply-chocolaty-to-copper variations in the ‘black’ leaves of ‘Brunette’ better. ‘Black Beauty’ has less variations to my eye.

And a particular Loosestrife that is NOT a garden thug.  Lysimachia ephemerum provides much sought after strong yet graceful, swaying-in-the-breeze height to the garden. I haven’t seen it for sale in many years but I think it’s a far superior option than its cousin Lysimachia clethroidesis better known as Gooseneck Loosestrife who is still sold in nurseries and is a bully, running rampant over anything that stands in its way. I steer clear of that one. Sadly, as is often is the case, some cultivars simply disappear. Growers stop propagating them in favor of newer varieties. 

And Echinacea ‘pallida’ who’s pouty petals are long, languid and so much more beguiling than her stouter brother ‘purpurea’. Yes, she is very fussy and demanding, but I love her far more. In our new location I will be experimenting with giving her a little more protection in the heat of the day. Either more moisture or dappled sun or more compost. Like I said, she's fussy. 

And Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, and some Gladiolus ‘Boone’ bulbs reportedly dating back to the 1920’s, and Mullen chaixii ‘Album’ who came from my mother’s garden, and, and, and the list goes on. And don’t even get me started on all the ferns I must keep. That will have to be another post all together.

This garden is like a friend that I’ve seemingly had forever. We’ve grown up together yet, today this is not the same garden I planted all those yesterdays ago. Nor am I the same person that I was 31 years ago.

Of trees; over time I planted 10, yet after having flourished for several years 2 of them turned away and died fast, unexplainable deaths. Maybe I was hasty in my planting of them and didn’t get them to just the right planting depth, or didn’t nurture them enough in their first year. And two others, long time stalwarts whom I didn’t plant but had welcomed me to this patch of earth died too, no less dreadful to me but most likely their natural allotted time had simply ceased.

Of perennials; some have taken hold and happily spread while others have disappeared after growing weaker and weaker. Perhaps I didn’t put them in the right place or perhaps they just rebelled. Death in the garden is not always the gardener’s culpability. No matter how we strive, we simply won’t thrive if we are in the wrong place…or on the wrong path. In this 31 years we’ve both fought and struggled and failed only to get up again and again until in the end we’ve both grown stronger, my garden and me.

Of bulbs; Tulips are not generally garden devotees. They give up and eventually go away, only strong in their early years. I planted 100 Tulipa ‘Gavota’ more than 15 years ago, of which only 1 remains today. The force of their presence in that number was incredibly beautiful really. A lovely combination of burgundy red edged in creamy butter yellow. I didn’t spend a lot on them knowing they would not be longsuffering.
I have however, spent a small fortune on daffodil bulbs. Perhaps I should be more specific, some rare and some heirloom daffodil bulbs. I have purchased some amazing species… the Pheasant’s Eyes, the fluffy doubles, some species with short trumpets, ‘Sinopel’ has green trumpets, some species that have graceful swept back reflex petals permitting the trumpet to be the star of the show. ‘Earlicheer’ and ‘Thalia’ were delightful for the longest time (thank you for your fragrance), and I believe it was ‘Rip Van Winkle’ who was already in residence when I bought this garden but years later he wearied of blooming so I dutifully divided him… well, over the following 2 years he mocked my efforts by sneaking into oblivion never to return. Narcissus are reputed to be strong, ever-returning and expected to deliver a return on your investment by rewarding you with ever increasing clumps…so much so that when they are overcrowded, their blooming decreases and their legion must be divided and replanted so as to make more room to breathe and thus bloom on again, year after year. Well, that’s what they say, anyway. Yet not for me in my garden. Each and every one of those pricey defectors eventually turned on me and tiptoed away year after year until not a one remains today. COWARDS!

What I do have today, growing into a huge and happy mass is I-have-no-idea-who-you-are variety of daffodil. By happenstance, one day I found a few of these mystery bulbs on the walkway of a commercial establishment, tossed aside carelessly by a paid professional dunderhead gardener (I write the term loosely as no respectable gardener would do such an absurdity). I recognized these bulbs would be of the daffodil family so as I walked by I picked them up, tucking them into my pocket as I continued on my way. I remembered them days later, planted them and the sweethearts thank me more and more every spring as their tribe grows. Proof that a great garden need not require a princely income. Oh yes, you can be sure a few of them are coming along with me.

While I look forward with happy expectation of the new garden to come, I do with some sadness think of the one I will leave behind.

On the brighter side, who knows…maybe in my new garden I will create a secreted space within the whole… 
one of secluded tranquility where tea can be taken. 
A secret tea garden.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Anemone nemerosa ‘robinsoniana’, Bergenia ‘winter glow’, Brunnera macrophylla, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daffodils, Erythronium revolutum (fawn lily, trout lily, dogtooth violet), Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Hyacinths, Mahonia repens, Muscari, Pachysandra terminalis, Primrose (double English), Rhododendron, Skimmia, Tulipa ‘Gavota’, Viola.

Authors photos

Friday, January 29, 2016

Is Btk Safe for Honeybees?

Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.
Daniel J. Boorstin
 According to the Peninsula Daily News, “State agriculture officials will decide soon whether to propose spraying a biological pesticide over 10,500 acres across seven sites in Western Washington to kill leaf-eating gypsy moths. Washington and Oregon States will be doing a spray program this year (2016). The proposed Washington sites are Kent, N.E. Tacoma, Port of Tacoma, Fife, Milton, Vancouver, Port of Vancouver, Nisqually, Lacey, Gig Harbor and Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Washington would conduct three aerial sprayings, seven to 10 days apart, in April. In Oregon, state officials propose spraying in mid-April by helicopter over targeted areas of Forest Park, north Portland and Hayden Island with three treatments.“ 

There is much talk in my community about government aerial spraying for gypsy moth this year. And there’s a lot of fear about aerial spraying of any kind, especially in the beekeeping circles. We beekeepers have enough trouble with neighbors spraying insecticides, combatting known and unknown bee diseases, raising healthy bees with organic methods and winter die off. Now add the element of overhead spraying…aargh! ENOUGH CHEMICALS ALREADY!!
 But wait…we’re talking about Bt here. What is it really?
According to Rodale’s All New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (1992) “Microbial insecticides such as Bt and it’s varieties are effective, slow acting pesticides with virtually no harmful side effects and considered non-toxic to mammals.”
In Garden Insects (2004) Whitney Cranshaw writes “Bt is the best known bacterium…and is commonly  used as a microbial insecticide. Several strains exist, each of which affects only certain types of insects that ingest the bacteria or the toxic protein crystal it produces”. 
On the subject of organic beekeeping, Ross Conrad is my go to guy for my beekeeping questions. He is an author and organic beekeeper. For cases of preventing wax moths in bee hive equipment, in his book “Natural Beekeeping” (2007) he touched on the use of Bt for control of wax moth, a highly destructive insect in bee hives.  He writes “Bt has been used safely by the organic farming community for decades… is a bacterium that, when ingested by certain insect larvae, will kill the host…it becomes toxic only when exposed to the unique digestive environment found within the wax worm’s gut. There are no harmful side effects like with chemical (synthetic) pesticides.  Bt is sprayed directly onto the plant’s leaf. The toxin is not produced until the pests eats a leaf upon which the Bt microbe rests, it is safe and non-toxic to animals, humans, and beneficial insects, and it may be used right up until harvest. Also used by organic beekeepers as a safe alternative to moth balls for preventing wax moth infestations in empty hive equipment.” In this case Bt can be sprayed on frames and hive bodies that will be stored for later use. The presence of the bacterium will kill any larvae that hatches and feeds on the wax.
Gypsy moth, today’s subject, is a major pest known to defoliate millions of acres of hardwood forests annually and perpetually defoliated trees means death. WSDA claims gypsy moth control is often necessary to prevent damage in backyards and many urban areas to help stop the spread into neighboring forested areas. Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki (Btk) is the variety of insecticide of choice for this insect. Btk is a natural soil born bacteria which biodegrades in sunlight within about 10 days, hence the multiple applications and it will likely be done at night, minimizing exposure to people and animals and for sure honey bees who don’t fly at night or eat leaves. What about the leaf cutter bees, our native pollinators...they wrap their nests with leaves but they do not eat the leaves so this poses no harm to them either. And I don’t see their activity in my garden that early in the spring. writes “However, in their natural form, acute toxicity of commonly-used Bt varieties is limited to caterpillars, mosquito larvae, and beetle larvae. Bt var. kurstaki which cause disease in moth and butterfly caterpillars.”
 Yes, Btk would mean death to butterfly larvae too. However the spray applications will be in April. I don’t know if our native butterflies breed in temps that cold here in the Pacific Northwest, and those that migrate from warmer climates to our south don’t arrive till June. I did some research on temperatures necessary for butterfly breeding but couldn’t find a definitive answer. If you know, please drop a line in the comments section. The cooperative extension in Wisconsin suggests “If you are concerned about your butterfly garden plants being sprayed (with Btk), place a tarp over them the night before a spray is scheduled. Then, remove it after spraying is completed.”
 Part of the controversy also lies in the fact that caterpillars, larvae and even moths are a food source for birds. While the infected larvae won’t be harmful to birds, the lack of their populations could represent a decline in a food source for birds.
 The gypsy moths found in Washington and Oregon are two non-native species (European and Asian) of insects that have the potential to devastate our forested lands. They have been brought here inadvertently by international trade. In cases like this we must pick the lesser of two evils and I think a timely and occasional spray with an organic control as deemed necessary when populations show sustained increase is prudent. Yes, you will find extreme cases of human illness due to overexposure if you dig deep enough online but I think by and large it’s a safe choice considering the other alternatives. The cases I found were due to overexposure by splashing large quantities of the liquid on themselves as opposed to a focused spray or drift. Naturally if you are highly sensitive, it is suggested that you stay indoors during the spraying.  Maps of proposed spray areas are published online in states that I found using this method, but do keep in mind drift can enlarge targeted areas.
 My personal opinion? I am not a chemist or a scientist. I’m an organic gardener and beekeeper. I use integrated pest management (IPM) practices. I’m sick to death of all the synthetic chemicals in the world and I use natural, organic methods that include biological controls when I have an infestation that the birds and other predators are not controlling. Bt is one biological control that I have used many times. I’ve been using Bt to combat cabbage moth for years. And I think I’m safe to say, most if not all organic farmers have been using Bt to control leaf eating worms and larvae for eons. The way it works is topically. The bacteria adheres to the outside of the leaf and when the larvae eats the leaf it ingests the bacteria. Bt does not penetrate the leaf so will not be effective on leaf miners. Nor is it effective on adult moths. The larvae must be young. It does break down and does not stay of the leaf, so in the case of my cabbage moths, who lay eggs all summer on all brassicas, I spray weekly, in the evenings all summer.
 The method of Btk is proven effective and the least toxic available, so is prudent and organically approved.  After all, the goal of organic farming is to use the least toxic method to control pests and disease. Btk is far less toxic than the synthetic chemical choices out there.
 In Bloom In My Garden Today: crocus, Erysimum ‘Rysi Moon’, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Sarcococca confusa, Hellebore, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), viola, pansies
 Author’s photo of my bees

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Gifts for the Gardener

"For gardeners, this is the season of lists and callow hopefulness; hundreds of thousands of bewitched readers are poring over their catalogs, making lists ..., and dreaming their dreams." ~Katharine White, "A Romp in the Catalogues," The New Yorker, 1958 (collected in Onward and Upward in the Garden) 

Gift giving is a year round opportunity to bring joy to those we love, is it not? This time of year it is of course ramped up as we celebrate this season of Christ’s birth with the giving of gifts following in the tradition of the wise-men that lavished gifts upon the child Jesus (Matthew 2:10-12).

As we consider which gift would bring the most meaning to those in our lives, I have a few ideas to share for the gardeners in your life. Here is my top 10, not necessarily in order of preference, but as ideas came to mind like a shuffling of a Rubik’s Cube, these kept recirculating to the top.

1. Number one and the most obvious of course is a Gift Card from a favorite nursery. If you are unsure what to get, your gardener friend will no doubt already have a list in their head of needs and wants. If however, you’d rather give items not money, read on.

2. Feed the birds – because bird song feeds the soul. If your gardener friend loves birds, and I don’t believe that I’ve met one that doesn’t, anything that will bring birds to the garden year round will be applauded. Bird houses, bird seed, seed cakes and the proper holders for each, suet cakes in winter as well as a heater for the birdbath, there are so many birdy gifts that will delight your gardener friend. Books to help identify the birds that come for a visit are invaluable. And don’t forget about the butterflies and bats, as both are extremely beneficial to the planet. There are identification books galore and specially designed houses for each you can buy that will entice them to the garden too.

 A side note about bird feed. Beware of the ingredients listing on the compressed ‘cake’ style blocks of seed…most contain gelatin to hold the seed together in addition to dextrose and salts. Personally I would not buy any with added salts and sugars, but a contact at NWF says “It (gelatin) is the standard for all molded bird seed products that are available in the market. The gelatin is safe. There isn’t any salt in the gelatin. All similar bird seed products (bells, logs, wreaths, ornaments, seed covered houses, seed cakes, seed blocks etc) have been made this way for the last 30+ years. The birds do not eat the gelatin, they eat the seeds inside the shell.” If you like to make your own gifts, there are many recipes on the internet, some may contain harmful ingredients like salts and corn syrup which is a GMO. Look for recipes from reputable birding sites like National Wildlife Federation (, Audubon Society ( and If you use peanut butter, it is recommended to use unsalted.

3. ARS HS/KR 1000 pruning shears – I spent 3 days trimming the topiaries at work this fall and after that I expected to have some repetitive motion fatigue in my hands and wrists. I would have been in trouble had I used my own heavy, wooden handled pair but not with these. From Japan, the hard-chrome plated carbon steel blades keep a sharp edge and the tool is so light weight. I couldn’t believe the difference this pair of shears made when there’s a lot of trimming to be done. There are other ARS models but replacement blades are available for this one. Even if you don’t have topiaries or hedges to shear, these make easy work of trimming the heathers, lavenders and thyme after flowering is finished.

 4. Felco hand pruners/secateurs – THE best pruners in my opinion and most professionals in the industry use these. They are built to last and the red handles make it easy to find when you forget where you put or dropped them in the garden or shed. There are several sizes and handle shapes available for a comfortable, personal fit in your hand. They also make a left handers pair. All the working parts are available for spare parts purchase so you can replace any as needed without having to buy a new pair. And don’t forget the leather holster. Having a place to put the pruners attached to my hip means I misplace it much less.

 5. Pocket blade sharpener –iSTOR and Corona make a nice pocket size sharpener. The more you use pruners of course the more you have to sharpen them. iSTOR’s website also has a short video that shows exactly how to use this style of sharpener. Dull blades translate to poor cuts and tired, sore possibly inflamed hands and wrists. I keep one of these in my pocket while at work to sharpen as I need. Save the grinder and rasps for the shovels and hoes, this is better for those more delicate blade edges.

 6. Magazine Subscription. A one year paid subscription to their favorite gardening magazine would no doubt delight your gardener friend. A couple of my favorites have been ‘The English Garden’ and ‘Fine Gardening’. If they already have enough instructive magazines coming to the house they may enjoy ‘GreenPrints - The Weeder’s Digest’ which is comprised of real-life stories written by gardeners rather than the how-to. And if you’re lucky, you may even find an article by yours truly in this year’s line-up!

 7. Memberships to various gardening organizations or foundations. A one year membership may give your gardener a new way to hone their skills in something they are specifically interested in. If you like to “buy local” there may be several clubs and foundations close within your gardener’s community. A few years ago I was given a one year membership to Seed Savers which is national. This year I’d like to join the Hardy Fern Foundation which is local to me.

8. If your gardener is like me and likes antiques, these gifts are awesome! My friend has delighted me twice with antique watering attachments. Made from brass they will likely outlive my gardening days. First was a really cool spray nozzle to add to my collection. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Then more recently this wonderful fan sprayer….

9. In recent years I’ve discovered the absolute need for stretching my body to keep it happy. Stopping my work to do some meaningful deep stretches makes all the difference by the end of my day. I’ve found yoga stretching to be an outstanding exercise practice. There are many books and DVDs specifically for gardeners.

10. If you want to help them expand their library, visit my ‘library’ tab located under the banner at the top of the page for a list of my favorite books on gardening.

Well, there you have it my friends…but wait! A BONUS IDEA!

11. Conservatory or greenhouse. Who wouldn’t love to have this in their backyard?

 A REAL greenhouse is on my bucket list but if your budget is like mine…this may be a more realistic option.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Erysimum ‘Rysi Moon’, Pachysandra ‘Windcliff’, pansies, Geum’ Lady Stratheden’ 

Author’s photos 
ARS 1000 photo from manufacturer’s stock photos 

Please Note: I am not endorsing any particular seller, nor will I receive any compensation for endorsing these products. They are simply products I have personally used and enjoyed. My only goal in writing about them is to pass on my positive experiences with these products to you.