Monday, February 28, 2011

Field Trip - Northwest Flower and Garden Show

I love how you can breathe in botanical names as if it's a shopping list.
~Katherine Jones

Well, the weather here has been atrocious…relatively speaking. Our normal winter of mild temps has turned arctic-esque again and we are just waiting for the rain to return tomorrow and melt all this snow and ice away. Normally we get a week or so in February of dry, sunny days and balmy temps, luring every gardener out to prune roses and do some general cleanup. I postponed my rose pruning because I knew this freeze was coming. On a happier note, another much anticipated warming activity in February is the annual Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. Acres (at least it seems like) of gardens, plants, vendors booths, seminars and wonderful people (gardeners are really nice) all milling around, dreaming big dreams and soaking up a bit of paradise.

There were 24 display gardens to spur-on the imagination this year. They are really big and each is planned according to the show theme of the year. The 2011 theme is “Once Upon A Time: Spectacular Gardens with Stories to Tell”. Frankly half the time I don’t get the theme out of the design I see, but I don’t really care. It’s about the inspiration for me and what ideas I can take from the show to my own garden. The first garden I saw ended up being my favorite. Lots of nooks and crannies with well made classy sheds using recycled parts and old wood windows. That’s my kind of construction. When I rounded the corner and saw the name of the nursery that designed and implemented it…well I wasn’t surprised. It was Christianson’s Nursery all time favorite! Their nursery is just like this. Well done. If you can, you must visit.

By the time it was to leave I hadn’t seen the whole show. I don’t know if it’s possible in one day and this time I got held up at Andy’s Orchids booth. There are always several orchid vendors there but Andy’s has orchids for the true orchid geek. Not all in showy, tempting bloom of run of the mill varieties that can be had from your local grocery store (which are lovely and I have several) at half the price they wanted at the show. No, Andy’s had a huge selection of more rare and unusual species, not all in flower but he was quick to pull up a photo of the flower for you to see on his laptop. And he was happy to just talk orchids. No hard sell, no quick-sell-and-on-to-the-next-customer. Just sharing his knowledge and he really wanted to make sure you chose the orchid best suited to your situation and experience. A really neat guy. If you are into orchids and are going to a regional flower show, maybe he’ll be there. He’s worth searching out. If you are lucky enough to be near Encinitas, CA you could visit him. Oh and yes, I bought an orchid, dendrobium pugioniforme. Now I have nine of differing species. Darn things are just so addicting! I don’t even get them to bloom again every year but I live in high hopes…either that or delusion, but I’m learning. A few weeks ago I found the best online forum which is a huge and very helpful resource. That and a few library books and I’m confident I’ll get more blooms this year.

Back at the show, most of the display gardens had water features too. This ball with water enveloping it from an outlet at the top was my fav. The water fell so softly there was no sound and barely a ripple on the water’s surface. It was simply beautiful. And the flat, open patio for seating…ahhh, so serene. Yeah I could live there.

I love this quirky idea for a garden shed. I snapped a picture of it to keep in my photo file of future garden ideas. I have lots of old windows and even an old pair of small French doors, all just waiting for a design and space to make a fun garden building or greenhouse. I keep taking pictures and designing it in my head. Hopefully someday it’ll take shape. Someday.

As a matter of fact most of the pictures I take at the show go into a file for future garden ideas. This is a cool idea from the Creative Gardener to use old floor grates as ‘stepping stones’…which from our old house I have a few stowed in the attic.

I’m always sad when this show is over. Not your run-of-the-mill home and garden show, it’s special. We are really fortunate to have it here in our midst. I look forward to it every year, and always come away with something new for the garden. This year I bought some Allium bulbs (Allium sphaerocephalon) which promise a two-tone oblong spring flower of green and purple. How cool is that?? They are already sprouting in the bag so as soon as the ground thaws I’ll plant them. Can’t wait to see the bloom!

As I often do, I listed websites and extolled the virtues of a few businesses here today. I do so because I love passing on great information…nothing here is a paid endorsement.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Cyclamen coum, crocus, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), violet primrose, Sarcococca, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops)

Author’s photos

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Water In The Garden

Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.
~Okakura Kakuzo The Book of Tea

Ahhh, the fountains are bubbling with delight. Can’t you just hear them? I love the above quote, it paints such a tranquil scene. Being near a fountain is so restful to me, it promotes a peaceful calm.

Water has long been linked to easing the troubled spirit and can be enjoyed by all. The hearing impaired can gain from the visual relaxation cascading water brings and the sight impaired can hear the tranquil splashing. There is a tactile pleasure too…one young visitor to my garden had so much fun returning again and again to my tall pot fountain pictured here, plunging her hands and arms into the cool water several times on a warm day.

Your visiting wildlife will thank you for it too. I’ve often seen birds visit my ground level bubbler (below) for a drink or cleansing splash and squirrels often drink from it.

I have created two fountains for my garden. They were not expensive to make, nor do they take up a lot of room. The above tall pot style could even be used on a balcony. I have it situated under my study window. When the window is open for a summer’s breeze I can enjoy the water’s sounds while inside the house too.

Adding a water feature to your life is really as easy as 1,2,3…4.

1. leak proof container
2. pump
3. spout
4. electricity nearby

To make a fountain you need to decide if you want it above ground or below. Above ground fountains need more refilling to offset evaporation however, the top pictured fountain is easiest to create, although the more costly of the two. For a pot style fountain like mine you’ll need

• a tall pot
• a submersible electric pump (from a hardware/garden center or nursery)
• something the water can spill out of, a spout of your choosing. There are many spout styles at nurseries and garden centers. Some are metal, plastic or bamboo. I made the copper one pictured above from ½ inch copper tubing, some copper wire and soldering experience gained from many stained glass projects.

Some pots are already painted inside with waterproofing. Some have drainage holes and some do not. If you use an ordinary garden pot like I did, you’ll want to waterproof the interior and plug the drainage hole. In my glazed, terracotta pot I used an exterior, enamel, black, oil base, type of paint to coat the inside walls and bottom. A black pot interior is best for hiding the pump and its cord, which are also black. I also coated it with a liquefied silicone goo which peeled within the first year. I don’t think it is needed, I think the paint is enough. To plug the drainage hole, use silicone. It comes in a tube like glue. Fill the hole, being sure to seal all the sides and edges. When the silicone and paint are dry you are ready to fill it with water and put in your pump.

The pump for this size fountain should not be expensive. My pumps cost around US$20-30. For this size fountain you need only pump the water upward 4 feet (1.21m) or so, depending on how tall your pot is. You’re not making a geyser, unless you choose a pot 4 ft tall or more. My pot is about 19 inches (48cm) tall. A four foot rise of water may sound like too much but realize the pump only gets it up to that height and no more. At the 4 foot mark it’s only a dribble but it’s enough to get it to your spout. The distance to the top of my spout from the pump is 15 inches (38 cm). I get about an inch more of height before it cascades and softly splashes into the water below. If you want shooting water you’ll need a higher rise, but be aware, vigorously splashing water may not all land back into your pot, and could empty your water volume faster. Read the package label, it should indicate how high a rise each pump will create. My pump with a 4 foot rise is 120Volts, 9 Watts. These pumps also have a flow control adjustment dial, so you do have some ability to tweak the flow. I keep mine fully open. Attach the pump to your spout of choice, add water, plug it in and voila! You have a relaxing fountain.

Here is a close up showing the pump. It just hangs as is connected to the spout, and the cord comes up and over the back of the pot. Yes the cord shows, but being black is not glaring. My copper spout didn’t ‘hold’ the pump. It just fell out so I purchased some vinyl tubing which fits into the copper and is just right to hold the outlet of the pump. A minor complication that I can elaborate on in comments if you are interested in making your own spout. To comment just click on the word ‘comment’ at the bottom of the post.

My other fountain pictured is a below-ground style. All you really see is water bubbling up from the flat stones (which I found while digging in the garden).  For it you need a few more items.

• a dark grey or black plastic bin that will hold two or three gallons of water
• hardware cloth, cut and shaped into a ‘lid’ to fit over the bin, with a hole cut in the center for the pump riser
• black or grey nylon window screen material to lay over the hardware cloth, with hole for riser
• a submersible pump with its own plastic riser (most come with risers)
• and rocks to cover the whole thing

This fountain is covered with rocks mostly hiding what’s below. If you use flat rocks like I did, be sure to angle them inward so any splash flows back into the reservoir. The hardware cloth is sturdy enough to hold the rocks that cover it. I spray painted the hardware cloth black because the silver glints in the sunlight where it peeks through the rock layer. The window screen material over the top keeps out smaller debris which keeps the water and pump cleaner for longer periods of time.

• Dig your hole to fit the bin so the rim is just slightly above the dirt level. Too low and dirt will get in.
• Put in your pump with riser centered, and electrical cord coming up and out.
• Using tin snips cut your hardware cloth and shape it into a lid that won’t shift around. Cut a hole in the center so the plastic riser (included with your pump) can fit through. Put the lid on the bin and pull the riser up a few inches higher than the top of the lid.
• Cut window screening material to fit with a central hole for the riser also. It can just loosely lie over the top of the lid.
• Bury the cord. Fill it with water.
• Plug it in. Make sure you like how it looks and is not splashing too much. If it is adjust the flow control on the pump or just lower the riser. It’s easier to tweak it before you cover it with rocks. When you love it…
• Now cover the whole thing with rocks. Initially I used the smaller round stones seen in the picture below. Looked great but to dismantle and clean it was a pain so I now use larger, flat, shale like pieces with a few of the smaller round stones to cover any gaps. Much less work to dismantle.

I have the same size pump for both fountains but since the water doesn’t need to rise as far for this one it has a stronger bubbling flow before it falls back down onto itself. At first I used a blue bin, thinking it wouldn’t show as I’d be covering it with rocks. It did. Keep everything you use black or dark grey and it won’t show. Even the window screen material in the picture could be darker.

Think about maintenance cleaning while you are designing it. You’ll need to drain it and/or get at the pump 2 or more times per year, depending on how much debris gets into it. If you make it too complicated to disassemble you won’t clean it often enough to keep the pump functioning. Goo in the water collects in the pump, which can clog and burn out a pump in no time and you’ll be spending more $ on pumps than is necessary.

Electricity is a problem you say? Nothing a heavy duty outdoor extension cord and a shovel won’t fix. Neither of my fountains are inches away from an electrical outlet. One is about 6 feet away and the other 10 feet away from the exterior outlet. I connected them by burying heavy duty extension cords in the garden and/or lawn several inches deep into the soil. Always be mindful of where they are as you dig and weed in the garden. Several inches should be deep enough in a lawn to not be touched by a lawn mower but if you have a lawn service contracted to maintain your grass be aware a gas powered edger blade could reach the cord. Be cautious where you bury your cords and how deeply.

I connected both to automatic timers so they don’t run 24/7. I want to save electricity and being in an urban setting, I don’t want to disturb my neighbors when they are trying to sleep on a warm summer night with open windows. There are exterior timers that have covers to protect the mechanism from the weather.

Lastly if you get freezing temps in winter you do need to drain the fountains and put them away. I drain the pot and put the pump and spout in the garage. For the below ground one I leave it all intact but unplug it and cover it so it won’t freeze. Our mild Pacific Northwest winters are not usually harsh, so that’s all I need to do. Naturally if you get hard winter weather you’ll need to dissemble it more.

So there it is, only 4 easy steps to install a water feature in your garden today…ok, you need water too…so that’d be 5.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), violet primrose, Sarcococca, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops)

Author’s photos

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Apairy Update

“We are getting near,” said Gandalf. “We are on the edge of his bee-pastures.”
~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit


Woohoo, the bees are doing well! Finally we’ve had some warm enough weather temps for them to get out on a cleansing flight and for us anxious beekeepers to take a quick peak just in the top to see if they are needing to be fed or even indeed still alive. The Italian bees that I have need it to be about 50F (10C) for all this to happen. My bees often fly on a sunny day at about 45-47F degrees but at 50F degrees they’ll fly and I’ll be able to lift the lid for a quick check without risking a potential death chill to the cluster. I wouldn’t dare remove frames and really dig around in there just now but a quick peek is ok. My dad’s Carnolian bees will fly at cooler temps by a few degrees so are able to get out a little more often during our cool winters. When the time comes to re-queen I may go for a Carnolian next time, but my Italians have been quite hardy. I haven’t lost a hive yet, while many around us have.

When it’s too cold for them to fly and take a peek inside, you never know if they are still alive. I do have a removable bottom board tray under my screened bottom board which collects debris so I can often see ‘activity’ based on what I see in the tray. I was a little concerned a few weeks ago. In winters past I’ve been able to hear the bees within the hive by the age old method of eavesdropping with a ‘drinking glass to the wall’. I hold a glass up to the side of the hive they normally winter-over on (always the sunny south side for mine) moving it around till I can hear a buzz now and then, so I know they are ok. I’ve been trying this several times this winter with no audible success. I even bought an inexpensive stethoscope hoping for an easier method but I just can’t hear a darn thing out of it…not even my own heartbeat! Bah! Since I was pretty sure I’m alive, I checked with my friendly neighborhood nurse and yep, the thing works so I guess I’m just not stethoscope friendly. Dang!!! Am I hard-of-hearing already? I was hoping to not have to get down on my creaky knees with the glass anymore. Well I couldn’t hear them with the glass either this winter so maybe the stethoscope idea isn’t a total loss…yet. Maybe it’s just where they are located. The bottom tray debris collection gives me a great idea of where to start listening.

So, all that to say I was not sure they were still alive. We’ve had a few frigid bouts with air temps and snow, more than normal, but today I’m so happy to report they are alive and well. They are flying and spiraling up, up and away and I think I saw one come back with a little pollen. Here the heaths are blooming, a very important bee plant in cold regions as many are usually in bloom for those first, important winter cleansing flights. I’m putting in a new garden in the parking strip in front of the house and I do believe I’ll be adding a few Erica carnea, the lower growing, ground covering heath. If you want a taller mound of heath consider the Erica darleyensis varieties. Both are most frequently seen in nurseries and either will make your gardens more bee friendly.

The next 2 months are tricky times for bees in my part of the world. Going into winter, this was a strong hive, meaning lots of bees. The queen should have begun to lay eggs by now and their numbers can grow quickly. They’ll go through their food sources faster so I need to keep an eye on if/when they need supplemental food. Plus, there’s a chance our coldest temps are still coming. Hang on little bees, hang on! We can see the light at the end of winter’s tunnel!

All in all it’s a good day and a good report from the apairy.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), violet primrose, Sarcococca, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops),

Authors photo