Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Schizostylis

No two gardens are the same.
No two days are the same in one garden.
~Hugh Johnson

The Schizostylis coccinea aka Kaffir Lily or River Lily is blooming in my garden now. It has been renamed Hesperantha coccinea but I think I just like saying Schizostylis better. All names are apparently used depending on the grower, so if you look for it take all four names with you to the nursery. Confusing I know but often plants do get reclassified so patience is helpful. It is native to South Africa and has lovely delicate flowers that come in various shades of reds, pinks or a white. The flowers close up at night and open wide for the daylight. It spreads by rhizomes, fairly shallow so it is easy to dig, divide or thin. I read that thinning is suggested every 3 years for the plant to flourish.
It loves full sun, reaches for it in partial shade and craves moisture. I’ve seen it growing at the side of a pond at the Highline Botanical Gardens. I have one that gets ample water but slightly shaded and one (a division of the same plant) in a dryer but sunnier place. The former grows bigger and blooms earlier than the latter. Maybe that difficult sunny spot by the downspout? It has a fairly long bloom time as multiple buds open in progression up the stem. The leaves are long, slender, sword shaped that form basal clumps. Divide them in the spring.

I found mine at a local farmer’s market. The variety I have is named ‘Watermelon’ and the color is just like the inside of a watermelon (the photo of mine above makes it look more red than in person). I see Kaffir Lily now and then in the larger independent nursery. Best to buy them when in bloom so you can get the color you like best, so now is a good time to check your nurseries. Hardy in zones 5-9 (USDA).

Oh by the way, did I mention the hummingbirds love it? Indeed they do.

In bloom in my garden today: schizostylis, daphne, roses, star jasmine, alpine strawberry, artichoke, borage, phygelius, fushia, greenbeans, tomato, cucumber, tigridia, canna, coreopsis, Echinacea, salvia, catmint, solanum, gauara, liatris, oregano, loosestrife, lavender, Russian sage, hardy geranium, verbascum.

Photo by Pat Chissus

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What I Read

“By the time one is eighty, it is said, there is no longer a tug of war in the garden with the May flowers hauling like mad against the claims of the other months. All is at last in balance and all is serene. The gardener is usually dead, of course.”
Henry Mitchell, The Essential Earthman, 1981

Over the years my favorite gardening magazines have been English Gardening, BBC’s Gardeners World, Organic Gardening and Northwest Garden News (the last is available free at most nurseries). I have found the English garden magazines to be the most useful to me for my maritime zone 7-8 (USDA) garden. We can enjoy most if not all of the plants the English do whereby making use of the entire magazine, whereas American gardening magazines write for a variety of zones. For example, Sunset magazine features garden advice for the whole West Coast, so I can only use about 30% of the magazines offerings. Fine Gardening writes for zones across the entire US, giving me even less useful information. I can use all of the British magazine’s articles, even though the magazine is nearly double the cost, it is more cost effective to me and so fun to see the similarities of our regions.

Usually in January, when I can’t do much in the garden, I checkout all the Organic Gardening magazines I can find at the public library. OG is a wealth of info on vegetable gardens and soil health. Northwest Garden News is by local garden authors for the Washington and Oregon area.

Gardening authors who have taught or simply entertained me include Margorie Fish (English), the late Christopher Lloyd (a British treasure), Henry Mitchell (humor), the late Ruth Stout (American humor/practicality) the late Louise Beebe Wilder (fragrance), Ann Lovejoy (garden design and plant care), Steve Solomon (vegetables), Tracy DiSabato-Aust (perennials/pruning). There are so many more, too many to remember or list.

One of the most fun books for me has been Gardeners Latin: A Lexicon by Bill Neal. Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet…it simply explains the Latin botanical name structure and how to make sense of it all. When you buy a plant the label should have its Latin name. We tend to prefer the common name for its ease of use but across the country or world there are too many ‘Bluebells’ - you may not get the right one you saw in your friends garden. The common name bluebells can refer to the spring blooming Hyacinthoides bulb but they also refer to Campanula that bloom in summer, and in Texas they refer to Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflora). Additionally, the English bluebell is different from the Spanish bluebell, one is stout, the other graceful and each with their own botanical name. Having the Latin will ensure the correct purchase. The book also contains numerous little known historical botanical facts. I refer to it a lot. Unfortunately it’s out of print, but available for purchase on-line at used book sales sites. I was excited to find a copy in ‘new’ condition on Amazon.

On the web I refer to often for plant info. You can search by common name or Latin there. Many nurseries and catalog companies have wonderful and informative monthly newsletters. Some of my favorites are Old House Gardens (MI) and Christianson’s Nursery and Greenhouse (WA), both have websites you can sign up on.

When you simply must speak to an expert, locally we have a garden hotline at 206-633-0224. If they don’t have an answer they’ll look it up and call you back!

Lastly, for murderous fiction, author Audry Stallsmith has created Regan Culver. An herbalist and nursery owner who always solves the mystery! A three part series: Rosemary For Remembrance, Marigolds For Mourning and Roses For Regret. Her books are full of herbal lore. Sadly these too are out of print, but used copies are out there. Audry Stallsmith has a great website too,

Happy reading!

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm In The Garden Today

“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant's point of view.” ~H. Fred Ale

I thought I’d start a blog on gardening because I love talking about gardening and sharing with people about their gardens. If you say “I have to do yard-work today” then this blog is probably not for you. If on the other hand you say “I get to garden today” then we are of a kindred spirit.

I live in the Puget Sound region, zone 7 – 8 with a maritime climate influence. This mild climate allows us to garden nearly year-round, winter over some sub-tropical perennials and enjoy hardy Mediterranean herbs. Believe it or not, we are considered a Mediterranean climate.

I am an urban gardener with an average city sized lot. I didn’t take botany or horticulture in college (I was an art student) and am not a Master Gardener, although I’d consider taking the course if they supported and taught organic practices instead of traditional chemical methods. I have been a gardener for more than 24 years. I have worked in a nursery and currently volunteer some of my time at the municipal greenhouses. Therefore any info I give in this blog is of my opinion or experience, or given second-hand based on reading or talking with professionals.

I garden organically, which simply means I garden without the use of petro-chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. This is the healthiest alternative for people, animals, soil health and earth in my opinion. That is not to say I never use them…there are times when I will use a chemical herbicide only because a natural method isn’t available or known to me. The key is lessening the use; it is rare that I resort to them.

I do not expect perfection from my garden inhabitants. Weeds are inevitable as is disease on roses, both of which can be controlled by various actions, which may be the subject of future posts.

I also keep honey bees. It seemed like the most natural progression for any gardener. I have been a an organic beekeeper for 2 years and have 1 hive. I wanted the pollination for my vegetable garden but have become enamored with them and their amazing habits. Even though I find more of them in my neighbor’s gardens than mine (sigh), they are a delight. My dad is responsible for introducing me to the world of bees and is still my mentor.

I won’t write every day, but on those days I can get into my garden. In the winter months I may write less but will write. I hope my writing and successes and failures are helpful to your gardening efforts. Together maybe we can make beauty happen in our part of the world.

Welcome to my garden,