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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Winter Beauty

Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle -- a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
-- Barbara Winkler, American writer and editor

Never underestimate the power of a microclimate. Here in the temperate USDA zone 7 it’s not unusual to have some blooms in November and even a rose may send out a single bloom in December. We can get quite cold by our standards, the last couple of nights have dipped down into the 20’s F (-6C) but still I garden in what one friend calls “the place of magical gardens because we seem to be able to grow anything”.  Yes, being only a mile or less from the waters of Commencement Bay does have its advantages as bodies of water mellow temperature extremes.

Micro-climates can be small spaces of protection from the open air and winds just outside of them, those little warm pockets that are created by fencing and closely built houses. Hills and valleys create them too. Some can be warm and protective, others can be cold and ravaging. My back yard is a warm and protective micro clime. The photos below were taken just hours ago. Even though we are in the freezing temperatures of winter, for many of us there is still beauty to be found in our gardens, be it berries, blooms or beautiful leaves.

Blooms of Pachysandra 'Windcliff'

 Cyclamen hederifolium

Pyracantha Victory

 Fuchsia 'June Bride'

Hyssopus officinalis

Mustard Red Dragon Tongue

Fuchsia 'Aurea'

Salvia microphylla 'Heatwave Glow'

Geranium Lily Lovell

Heucherella 'Sweet Tea'

  Dryopteris erythrosora 'Radiance'

Geum 'Lady Stratheden'

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the beauty that surrounds us in the garden, the sunny day and the blessing of friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Erysimum, Fuchsia, Geum, Geranium, hyssop, Pachysandra, Pansies, Salvia

Author’s photos

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Save The Tomatoes!!!

How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.
~Benjamin Disraeli


This time of summer they are in full swing, producing like crazy. Paired with freshly harvested basil and garlic from the garden, I think tonight’s dinner will be a fresh tomato sauce over capellini and a salad of dark red “Merlot” lettuce.

Well, anyone who has grown tomatoes knows that even the lightest of summer rains can split all of the tomatoes on the vine. They are of course harvest-able once split if you get them immediately after but leave them on a day or so and they will start to mold at the tear. Oh misery! Oh groan! What’s a gardener to do?

Break out the umbrella, of course!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache, Alyssum, Aster, Astilbe, Borage, Canna, Catanache caerulea, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Crocosmia ‘george davidson’, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Geum, Gladiolus ‘Boone’ (heirloom 1920’s),Green Beans, Hardy Geranium, Heuchera,Hosta, Hyssop, Kniphofia (torch flower or red hot poker), Lavender, Lily, Lysimachia ephemerum (non-invasive loosestrife), Nandina, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Oregano, Penstemon barbatus ‘delft blue riding hood’, Phygelius, Rose, Salvia, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thalictrum rochebrunianum (meadow rue), Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower), Tomato, Zucchini, Veronica ‘royal candles’

Author’s photos

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review - A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers

Garden writing is often very tame, a real waste when you think how opinionated, inquisitive, irreverent and lascivious gardeners themselves tend to be.  Nobody talks much about the muscular limbs, dark, swollen buds, strip-tease trees and unholy beauty that have made us all slaves of the Goddess Flora.  ~Ketzel Levine

Do you collect gardening books?

I don’t collect them per say, but I do keep a small library of my most favorite go-to books when I need extra info on a perennial or a particular veggie’s habit. Now and then I find garden writing books at used book stores, read them then sell them back if they are good but not keepers. I do check out some from the library too, by fun to read authors like Beverley Nichols and Ann Lovejoy. I wish Mike McGrath would write more books…his humor never disappoints and always produces belly-laughs from deep within my own experiences. Maybe one day some genius will compile his newspaper columns into a book. I’d buy it for sure. I have Christopher Lloyd’s cyclopedia with pages and pages of his opinionated thoughts on plants. I love it. It is great for information and a chuckle or two as he shares his experiences in the garden.

So the other day was a beautiful day in May.  We went on a walk and found the first of the summer’s yard sales were set up. As usual we scrutinized the goods as we ever so slowly walked by. We certainly don’t need more stuff but I can never resist a look-see. One in particular had a bunch of books out for sale. Lo and behold I found a gardening book so I picked it up and started leafing through. Written in 1933 (how cool is that?) it had beautiful hand colored photographs and some illustrations for every flower and plant detailed within its pages.

Reading old gardening books is a little like old science books….things change. New discoveries are made and botanical nomenclature changes as plants are reclassified by who-knows-who, rendering them inaccurate, but I thought one can always learn new things, even if they are outdated, right? So…well, it was just a dollar after all…so…I bought it. It would be nice to have for the gorgeous old time photos alone.

It is titled Garden Flowers in Color. A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers by G. A. Stevens.

Once home again and comfortably flopped down on my chaise lounge, I read the introduction. The author states, and I quote “The text has been prepared with as much fidelity to the floral facts as that provided in the illustrations. It has been written, for the most part, from actual garden acquaintance with the wide range of subjects covered in these pages and it is believed that a book of definite educational value as well as a convenient adjunct has resulted” end quote.

Ok, so that said I commence perusal. Wow, lots of varieties back then that just aren’t seen these days. Educational and fun but not particularly helpful for researching today’s cultivars.

Hmmm, Funkia…the apparently old fashioned term for Hosta. Cool…I do have elderly customers at work asking for plants in terms we don’t use these days…this may be really helpful! Matter of fact one of our customers is 100 years old!! Scouts honor! I’ll have to ask her if she knows the term Funkia.

On and on I read, mostly it is indeed factual stuff…till I get to page 225. Rose Acacia. "Professionally known as Robinia hispida or Pink Locust." We sell Purple Robe Locust where I work and it is truly a beautiful flowering tree, but I’ve never grown one myself. Reading the description…”Robinia hispida is the botanical name of the Pink Locust, which gardeners for some reason or other have decided to call Rose Acacia. It is a clammy shrub, usually grafted on the top of a tall waking stick and stuck in the most conspicuous place in the garden. The flowers are obese and ugly, and they hang in sticky profusion from the foliage. It is a most unattractive thing without beauty or merit as a garden plant.”

Wait…what? But G. A., on page 7 you said your writing was prepared…”with as much fidelity to the floral facts…” Hmmm. Apparently this excerpt is more closely associated with the “actual garden acquaintance” you mention later. Ok, really, I have to ask…what in the world does “a clammy shrub” describe?

Well the rancor fun doesn't stop there. Weigelas don’t escape the author’s verbal lashing either…oh no my friends, read on...

“Among the commoner shrubs for ordinary purposes are the humble Weigelas. Great, rank bushes they are, with coarse foliage and still coarser and uglier flowers….But one of the most dreadful shrubs which have ever been foisted upon a defenseless nation is the supremely ugly variety called Eva Rathke. No one can imagine how hideous a flower can be until one of these monstrosities is brought to his attention. In fact the blight of Eva Rathke rests upon all Weigelas and no garden would suffer if all the Weigelas in the world were piled high and dry and burned to ashes.”

Oh dear, oh dear. A tad harsh? I've had Weigela. Mine was a lovely graceful variegated shrub with soft pink blooms much enjoyed by hummingbirds. Quite nice actually, er…in my humble opinion.

And who said gardeners were opinionated?

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Alyssum, Bergenia ‘winter glow’, Blueberry, Brunnera, chive, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Lights’,Exbury azalea, Fuchsia, Geranium phaeum ‘lily lovell’ (mourning widow), Geum, Heuchera, Iris, Kniphofia ‘little maid’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Oxalis oregana ‘wintergreen’, Peony, Phygelius, Pyracantha koidzumii ‘victory’, Rose, Rhododendron, Sage, Saxifraga andrewsii (irish saxifrage), Schisandra rubriflora (strawberry vine), Tellima grandiflora (fringecup), Trillium,Vancouveria hexandra (inside out flower), Tomato

Authors photos

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Euphoric Over Euphorbia

All through the long winter I dream of my garden. On the first warm day of spring I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirit soars.
~Helen Hayes, American actress, 1900-1993

Euphorbias (ew-for-bee-a) are native to the Mediterranean’s sandy, hot regions but hybrids have brought hardy varieties to our cooler northern gardens. Grow them in full sun in USDA zones 5-8. They are quite adaptable so don’t be afraid to try them in your garden even if it’s not so Mediterranean-esque. They have a long spring flowering season, and those planted in the more sunny sites often produce the deeper foliage colors. Give them good drainage as heavy soils will kill them quickly and they reportedly don’t like windy sites.

I have three Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’.  Two are in my street side parking strip, notably windier than the one in my back yard. The two that get the wind, flowered just like the one in the back but they are lacking any leaves at this point. They were full and leafy all summer but the cold winter winds have left them bare stemmed. The new growth is coming out leafy so my guess is they will leaf out again with the warmer weather. This is their first year so their performance is yet to be seen over a succession of seasons so I can compare those in the wind to the more protected one.

They are known for their drought tolerance and most have chartreuse inflorescences as seen above on my E. Redwing. An exception being E. ‘Blackbird’ (below) whose flower is more of a rust color aging to apricot with some peachy tones throughout.

Euphorbias comprise a large group of plants ranging from annuals, perennials and succulents enjoying a surge in hybridization which is delighting Euphorbia lovers and collectors with an amazing array of foliage colors and a multitude of plant sizes for both big and small gardens.

E. wulfenii (above) is the tallest I’ve seen, at easily 5 ft (1.5m) tall but E. mellifera reportedly reaches 8 ft (2.4m).  There are others but the shortest I’ve seen is E. myrsinites ‘Donkey Tail Spurge’ reaching less than 6”(15cm) tall and looks quite like a succulent ground cover.

Some Euphorbias are reportedly short lived plants but can easily be propagated by cutting off stems, stripping the leaves off the bottom half of the stem and inserting it into soft soil. This is also a great way to increase the presence of your Euphorbias in the garden. Repetition of plants and or color can make your garden look ‘put together’ and professionally designed.  Some Euphorbias will seed themselves around your garden too. Some may come true to seed but others will not. You may like that habit of self-seeding as a way to fill a garden space.  Nope, not me.  I once had E. dulcis Chameleon that made such a nuisance of itself that I ripped it all out and continued to remove seedlings for a few years to come.  My little postage stamp sized garden doesn't have room for such joyful self-seeding abandon. Either that or I’m too type A to allow it. Hmmm. I think not.

Pruning is easy. When the flower is finished it will begin to turn to seed. That’s when you cut down the old stems to 3-6” (8-15cm) from the ground.  New growth will appear from the base or low on the old stems. Those will be this year’s leafy stems and next year’s flower. Now that you’ve removed the seed heads, the plant’s energy will stop forming seed and be redirected into producing the new leafy stems. When cut or wounded all exude a white milky sap which can irritate the skin and eyes so be careful when working around them.

Lastly a note on using common names. Euphorbias are also known as Spurge and are related to the Poinsettia. However this Spurge must not be confused with the ‘other’ spurge, Pachysandra, which is an evergreen ground cover with white flowers for the shade garden.  They are completely different plants, needing different exposures but sharing a common name. I know relying on common names is easier but as I've said many times on this blog, knowing the Latin botanical counterpart is so helpful to find the plant you are looking for in the nursery because many totally different plants can share a common name, especially if you travel to different parts of the world or even just within the US. 

In Bloom In My Garden: Alyssum, Anemone nemerosa robinsoniana’, Bergenia, Blueberry, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Euphorbia, Geum, Hellebore, Heuchera, Hyacinths, Iris,
 Tulipa, Trillium,Tiarella, 

Authors photos

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spring Bulb Fertilizing

Growing tips break ground
A hint of green on gray branches
Spring unfolding
~ Marie B. Rice, 1932-2011, Haiku

Spring has sprung here in the Pacific Northwest, er… well, actually a couple of weeks ago if you consider all the bulbs that have come up and the number of early daffodils blooming today. So for us this post is timely for the tulips, muscari and other later bulbs just emerging, not yet blooming. As for the rest of the U.S., this post will give you the info you need for the upcoming thaw, it's strong a little while longer, and be ready to fertilize your bulbs when they emerge in the warming days to come.

When organically fertilizing flowering bulbs the nutrient of choice is usually fish bone meal, but rock phosphate is an alternative choice for the vegan/vegetarian gardeners reading today.

Both are great sources of phosphate for encouraging blooms and root development but the success lies in the application. If you are accustomed to applying synthetic chemical fertilizers, you are used to just scattering the granules on the ground and leaving them to dissolve. Easy yes, but if you want to do more to better the earth, soil health and your own health you will consider transitioning your gardening to organic practices whenever possible.

This brings me to today's topic. Fertilizing your spring flowering bulbs organically. A recent walk through the neighborhood brought this post to mind. This gardener sprinkled bone meal around their bulbs and flowering plants.


The bone meal is a good thing, but leaving it in big blobs like that isn't. They left out one important step...working the fertilizer into the soil.

Organic fertilizers need to be broken down by the naturally occurring microbes in the soil. So as you sprinkle your bone meal or rock phosphate you will need to lightly scratch it in with a rake, lightly working it into the soil surface so most of it comes into contact with the soil and its billions and billions of microbes. Easy enough to do but it takes a few minutes more of your time.

Now the granules are surrounded by microbes so those little treasures can do their very important work of breaking down the bulb food and making it available to the roots.

The time to apply the bone meal for spring flowering bulbs is when the leaf tips are breaking ground. If you can see where the bulbs are, you can work around the tender green tips and not damage them.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Corylopsis veitchiana (winterhazel), Cyclamen coum (spring), Daffodils,Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Hyacinth ‘blue jacket’, Primrose (double English)

Author's photos

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter Fragrance

Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.  ~Walt Whitman


It’s January, and winter is in full swing up here in the northern hemisphere. Which means every time I step out my back door I am greeted, nay assailed by the heady fragrance of my Sarcoccoa confusa bush. This evergreen delight is planted near my front door, but the scent wafts completely around the house on the air currents to perfume my back yard too. Follow this link to my previously published work for its particulars.

As I walk around my city’s neighborhoods I find it everywhere by following the fragrance as it ebbs and flows across my path. It is in full bloom now and will soon be followed by Daphne odora (Winter Daphne), then after that Skimmia japonica, all of which will keep you in a sweet-scented state of enchantment through March.

So here’s a heads up…if you live in the Pacific Northwest, get to your local nursery now. Sarcoccoa will be blooming and for sale, ready and waiting to be added to your garden.

Oh, and a BONUS! Hummingbirds sip of it's nectar daily and honey bees take full advantage of its pollen and nectar offerings when the temperatures are mild. I see both on mine.

In bloom in my garden today: Cyclamen coum (spring), Galanthus elwesii (snow drops), crocus, primrose, Sarcococca confusa, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), hellebore

Author’s photo