Guest Speakers

(excerpted and edited from Marilyn Pulk’s meeting minutes in the RGC Bramble Newsletters)

Marianne Binetti “FALL: The Second Spring

Marianne gave her talk with the beautiful backdrop of a member’s garden and a fall container display, which became integral to her topic. Her goal, to teach us to love fall and look at it as the second spring for gardeners.

Recipe for a yearlong container display: Her container began with the familiar “thriller, spiller and filler” technique. First the thriller, a colorful burgundy Phormium was centered, surrounded by the rounded Echinacea and sedges. As every plant grows in different directions, leaning them out toward the light helps create balance. Into the pot she placed decorative fall elements including some snipped maroon Sedum heads (which will root), dried Hydrangea heads (remove the leaves and they may also root) and a little trick–spray-painted Crocosmia seedheads. This display was definitely her “thriller” fall planter. Other plants that can be used (Thrillers): dwarf evergreens, Euphorbia “ascot rainbow”, Rudbeckia, or upright heathers; (Fillers): Heuchera, Carex, pansies, Hellebores; (Spillers): Lamiums, Sedums, low evergreen herbs.

Fall action list: Heading on into “fall-the second season”, she described each season as golden, in which we should try to see something beautiful every day. This time of year can be especially colorful and festive, which we can achieve in the garden with carefree shrubs like bearberry combined with asters. Her slides featured stunners like Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’  (cut back in May to reduce height), Verbena bonariensis, the myriads of dahlia flowers and foliage, Cannas. Use these beauties in the landscape as an artist uses paint. Dahlia tip: Wait until the leaves turn black from frost, then cut down. Japanese maples are the best colorful trees for the NW.

Marianne presented her Fall Game Plan: Unzip an Autumn plan with four steps that include the letters in FALL.  F = Flowers that last forever; A = Autumn Foliage; L = Leaves and Left-Overs ; L = Lawn Care.

F for Forever Flowers: All of the fall bloomers mentioned above captivate in the fall. And don’t forget the bountiful bulbs available now—a reminder to plant for next spring’s beauty. Tulips, unless they’re rock species, should be treated as annuals, since they never replicate the first year’s blooms. These species tulips are perfect for rock gardens, border plantings or even in gravel. Marianne especially likes clusters of bulbs against evergreens or in containers, not just in small numbers scattered around. White trumpet narcissus like Silent Valley and Mt. Hood work well with boxwood.

A for Autumn foliage: Foremost in this category is to make room for Japanese maples, either weepers, uprights or columnar types. The Acer rubrum “October Glory” has an outstanding red fall color. Colorful shrubs such as bearberries, Nandinas and multiple shades of Euphorbias can also be potted up for foliage match-ups with containers. Silver foliage, black mondo grasses, Hellebores also add to great container plantings. After a year remove these, plant out in the landscape and pop in bulbs of snowdrops, daffodils and stems of trees with interesting bark for spring color for yet another seasonal display. Marianne shared a whimsical use of Hellebore flowers to startle guests—float them in the toilet. She also shared a Hydrangea propagation tip—feel the petals, if they are leathery, cut stems and poke into moist soil or one-inch of water.

L for Love of Lawn: Time to level out the lawn, aerate, rake in compost, reseed, sharpen mower blades, add dolomite lime every year and fertilize with slow release fertilizer. Learn to love your moss…or be prepared to work hard at removal.

L for Leaves and Left-Overs: Tip for creating leaf mold—put grass clippings combined with leaves and small amount of soil into black garbage bags. Poke holes in the bags and let it sit all winter. By spring, you will get superior leaf mold. This is nature’s way to allow plants to soak up nutrients, as well as smother shotweed. Marianne loves recycle uses and the value of fallen leaves, essentially to put debris behind bars and release into landscape renewal. Old-time wattle fences from branches were shown. Use all the beautiful branches, seedheads, etc. in decorating schemes. Winter beauty can be found in a basket of pine cones. Nothing better than pine cones and a glue gun. Stretch and grow in this season.

Finally, Marianne added the notion to “Make peace with the end of summer”.  If nothing else, watering is over.

Marianne offerred Anwers to questions both before and after her talk, including: Blackberries: work on the roots by continually cutting them down/mowing.  Scotch Broom: Cut down when flowering. Buttercups: Lime the area twice/year, which will weaken them. Rake in grass seed, if it’s in the lawn (“Smart Seed” recommended).  Madrone trees:  Research has determined they’re dying due to drought conditions. Often associated with moisture stress, madrone twig dieback is a fungal disease that progresses from branch tips downward into the rest of the tree. Horsetail: Cut and cut and cut again. Salal: Same strategy, but smother and add a final touch of covering with good soil on top (they don’t like it). Rather than use Roundup or Pre-emergent herbicides, use corn gluten. A natural substitute for chemicals, corn gluten meal interferes with seeds’ ability to germinate and form roots, thereby rendering them not viable. The weed produces a shoot but root formation does not occur. Peony leaves in compost: These can be used in the leaf mold recipe.

Christina Salwitz: Fine Foliage-Elegant Plant Combos for Garden and Container

According to Christina, with this wet winter/spring, it is the “slit your wrists or go to Vegas” time of year. But we were reminded to hang in there for some spectacular color very soon. A major take-away from Christina’s garden design wisdom is simply “Do not rely on flower power alone”. If you start with flowers, you will always be handicapped. Foliage is king. Christina showed a slide with a photo of a garish sofa noted how hard it was to design around a room around it. She emphasized to start with the furniture or pots first. Pots should be considered part of the outdoor furniture.

We often are side-tracked by spectacular flowers at this time of year, but our nursery rubber-necking should really include foliage combinations. One little known factoid that Christina revealed—men see 300,000 types of colors, while women see 3,000,000. So, let’s capitalize on that color abundance for that “wow” factor in containers, as well as obtaining a total look with garden art and “pots of bold” thrown in. A “what’s wrong with this picture?” approach began the session with a photo of a common error of plopping down small containers at the end of garage doors—or what she called “blah” containers—beige pots, beige plants encircled by beige children (just a sample of her humor). Thus, the initial shot across the bow was pots. Tips included: the larger the pots, the lazier you can be, as well as lining the insides of the pot with bubble wrap for added winter protection. Terra-cotta pots are infamous for damage. Christina likes to plant up low, wide bowls, set on 3 ft. tall home-made garden pedestals alongside other tall containers.

One of the easiest colored pots to combine foliage plants with is teal, purple, black or dark green, while cobalt blue is one of the tougher. One of her least favorite pot colors is “root beer” brown, but it can show off hot- colored foliage like coleus. She considers the universal harmonic colors theory when working to combine plants with pots. For example, one of her favorite combinations is blue and yellow—opposites on the wheel and sunset tones. Many of her colorful photos were shown to display the combos for diverse pots and glass art inserted—sort of a fiddlesticks eye-attractor. One of the hottest trends is edibles in containers, which can be switched out into the landscape. For example, native huckleberries or blueberries are thrillers with flowers, berries and fall color and at $12/pound for huckleberries—a good value. Just keep them sheared to remain attractive. One of her strategies for keeping pots interesting…cram in small hardy perennials/shrubs that can be removed after the season and planted out to make room for new seasonal arrangements.

Onto the plants…as many of her container slides have been featured in magazines such as Fine Gardening, Sunset, Better Homes & Garden, Horticulture, Container Gardening and Birds and Blooms. Some photo shoots have been challenges—like only using 5 plants—and others resulted in “angry planting” just to finish and of course, those are cover shots. The ultimate goal is to create a “visual buffet”. Start with foliage first, as a support system for the flowers and use a gardening theme (like all things Coleus) that tells a story. She likens this stage to the “trying on clothes” strategy—just keep trying on stuff to get the right look. At some point, it may look like a “clown car explosion” of color in order to achieve that “wow” factor, but that’s a good thing. Opposite colors on the color wheel are striking, such as the look of ketchup and mustard or fire and ice. And this is where having fun with those 3,000,000 colors comes in.

Monochromatic color themes combined with different textures are also one of her favorites. One other stunning look is a single specimen matched perfectly to a cool pot. A reminder was given to check out houseplants, (such as croton, griffin begonias, coleus, rubber plants, bromeliads, etc.) which can go out in the warmer weather and returned to resume their houseplant positions. Christina also mentioned her friend and a former RGC speaker, Janit Calvo’s creative potted miniature gardens as another fun container opportunity—again matching the pot with the ingredients. Don’t think that because your site is shady, that you can’t have color—there are many colorful shade plants with great texture to consider.

The list of plants was endless, as were the color combinations…to name a few: twiggy lonicera (“looks like someone told her a dirty joke”), draecenas, Big Red Judy or Kong coleus (“go big or go home”), begonias, purple tracelium, golden feverfew, golden oxalis and oxalis iron cross, Delta Dawn & Berry Smoothie heucheras, wire vine, variegated rubber plant, white variegated boxwood, grasses (Mexican feather grass, acorus, Japanese forest grass, black mondo), euphorbias (“of all flavors”), senecio, dwarf heaths, John Sterling hebe, variegated pieris, nemesia, Baggeson’s gold lonicera nitida, sambucus, pussy willows (for vertical element), Monkey flower-mimulus maximus, rue (which can burn the skin), anemanthole grass (which we had fun pronouncing), ninebark, little hydrangeas, alyssum, bleeding heart, smokebush, Dragon’s breath celosia, rainbow leucothoe, twisty baby dwarf black locust, millet, dwarf conifers, blueberries and rhodys. Think also about how the plants will behave after planted in containers, e.g., will it grow too fast and overpower other combinations?

Christina then asked stumper questions about some of the container plants and winners went home with great garden gear. While still in the captivated mode, several questions arose about how long from planting day to photo shoot—answer: about 6 weeks. However, they are pruned and shaped often. Fertlizer? We’re in luck, as Christina taught soil biology. Her choices include Hendrikus Organics or Dr. Earth. Since all container plants are kept hostage in this environment, it’s also important to start with good soil mix. She recommends Black Gold or Dr. Earth and not using enough of this is a problem. When succession planting and removing for seasonal displays, she generally refreshes the soil every couple years. Unlike the gaudy couch shown in one of Christina’s slides, we now are armed and dangerous in a quest to create our own tasteful or clown car color explosions of garden container jewelry…just in time for summer bragging rights.

Brad Freeman: Introduction to Dahlias

History and Descriptions: Brad’s slide show and hanging displays began with an introduction about dahlia origins and species or “From a simple little flower great things can come”. As a Mexican native, single-flowered dahlias were brought to Europe in the late 1700s and began propagation in the 1800s. Very little is known about the dahlia prior to the Aztec times. The genus Dahlia consists of 42 recognized species. The ADS-recognized forms today include the Fully Doubles: Formal Decorative, Informal Decorative, Semi-Cactus, Straight Cactus, Incurved Cactus, Laciniated, Ball, Miniature Ball, Pompom, Stellar, Water Lily, Novelty Full Double; and the Opened Centered: Peony, Anemone, Novelty Open, Collarette, Orchid, Single, Mignon Single, and the newest as of 2014…the Orchette. So many forms, so little space.

World-wide propagation continues and to date, there are no black or blue dahlias, but they are close on the black—which is essentially a dark reddish/purple look. The latest move is to create even smaller “Micro-dahlias”. Dahlia coccinea is the stock that is used to create most of today’s dahlias. There is a 3-5 year dahlia genome project underway to map and figure out the dahlia’s true parentage. It is related to sunflowers. ADS colors include white, yellow, orange, pink, dark pink, red, dark red, lavender, purple and blends of these. Sizes in diameter vary from AA (Giant-over 10”), A (Large-over 8-10”), B (Medium-over 6-8”), BB (Small-over 6-8”), M (Miniature-up to 4”),  BA (Ball-over 3.5”), MB (Miniature Ball-over 2-3.5”), P (Pompom-up to 2”), MS (Mignon Single-up to 2”) and S (Single-over 2”).

Planting, Cut Flowers: Dahlias in containers work well especially dwarfs, as does directly in rich loamy soil. However, dahlias have a few requirements–they do not like wet soil, as the tubers will rot and they like to be planted in full sun. The Freeman’s beds have evolved over the years to raised, pressure-treated wooden beds where you can control the soil/pests better with weed cloth between the beds. Irrigation and plastic netting with rebar stakes and/or fence posts were used to better support the dahlias. Since dahlias can vary in height from 1 to 7 ft., it is best to stake or cage them. Space dahlias according to bloom size, the larger-flowering varieties should be planted 2-3 ft. apart, while smaller ones can be planted 18 in. apart. Brad cautioned us not to plant too early (like now) but wait until the soil reaches about 55 degrees (early May). Tubers will not emerge in cool damp/wet soil, and also growth will slow down in hot 80 degree weather. Place the stake in at the same time you place the tuber (horizontal with the eye upward). Fertilizers were discussed—When the plants are 6” high, apply a water-soluble amendment high in nitrogen, such as fish fertilizer. Then again later in the season when they begin to bloom, apply a liquid fertilizer that is low in nitrogen, but high in phosphorus and potash.

Digging/Dividing: Brad said that tubers can be left in the ground here for about 2-3 years. When you see the flowers diminishing or colors reverting, it’s time to dig/divide. It’s better for the viability of the flowers to divide them up. Use a spade (doesn’t advise forks as they could puncture tubers) to lift out.

Maintenance: Disbudding and disbranching were discussed to help create bigger blooms, stronger stems and a compact bushy plant.  Pinch out the center growing tip when the plant is one foot high. Pinch off the side buds at the end of each growing branch. In spring, the slugs will devour dahlias, so use a control like Sluggo. Other pests include spider mites, aphids and earwigs. The more you cut the flowers (early in the morning), the more you’ll get. Mulch with compost every year and test your soil every 3-5 years.

Watering: In summer, thoroughly water every two weeks—more if it’s hot and when buds are forming. Brad prefers soaker hoses or T-tape (John Deere T-tape found at Drip Works).

Fertilization: At Planting: a hand-full of organic mix fertilizer, followed in June when the plants are about a foot high give them a dose of fish fertilizer. In July/August, when the plants are about 3 ft. high, give them a dose of bloom booster products. No fertilizer after September 1st.  If you fertilize late the tubers will not last.  Brad promised an emailed copy of his organic mix recipe.

Pests: Slugs, snails, earwigs (use Sluggo Plus), spider mites, aphids and thrips are most often the pests to remove. Brad uses Bayer all-in-one rose fungicide/fertilizer mix, when plants suffer from powdery mildew. One handy tip for pest help is to remove the bottom leaves about a foot up. A test for mites: Grab a white piece of paper and shake the plant—you will see the mites fall on the paper.  A mix of castile soap/lavender oil spray is affective for these pests. Brad had heard that the dreaded cucumber beetle is coming from the Olympia area, so be on the lookout for this dahlia pest.

Diseases:  Dahlias suffer from powdery mildew and other viruses, so avoid overhead watering. Remove affected parts and throw in the garbage, since it can end up in the soil. A helpful concoction to spray includes 10% bleach and 10% hydrogen peroxide in water. And now we got to important discussions–digging and dividing:

Digging and Storing: Dahlias will over-winter in the ground here, if protected—mulching and tarps. After first frost, cut them down leaving a short stalk. If fall dividing, use a spade (not a fork as it damages tubers) as a lever to lift, digging at least a foot around. Clean off soil and divide tubers with a sharp knife or pruners and each tuber must have a “growth eye” attached. Otherwise, they are considered “blind” and will not grow. Soak tubers in 5% bleach solution for 15 minutes, allow to dry and store in a cool, dark place. Brad stores his in coolers full of cedar shavings. Brad ended his dahlia talk with a pitch for joining the PSDA and attending their Dig and Divide Workshops held in October (check website: www.pugetsounddahlias.org). We’re lucky to live in the NW—the true center of American dahlia culture—with dedicated dahlia-heads everywhere. If left to our plant addictive personalities, our limited dahlia collection could blossom into a full-blown cut flower collection, with hybridizing not far behind.

Joan Helbacka: Weeds and Other Naughty Plants

Joan has been a Master Gardener for over 20 years, garden speaker, and former Program Coordinator for WSU King Co. Master Gardeners and remains an avid digital photographer presenting many of her photos in her talk. She began with a “Weeds and Other Naughty Plants” handout. This also included a list of Horticultural Errors in Judgment…AKA garden plants that can be considered weedy. Amidst the many groans as some of our weed challenges appeared on screen, we were enlightened on their appearance, life cycles, and weed control strategies. Joan stressed that she would be discussing common weeds, plants of concern and downright noxious weeds.

Early spring is a good time to get a plan of action going before they seed all over. As a part of Integrated Weed Management, the first step is weed identification. The EPA requires not only a common name, but binomials used by botanists. ID without flowers can be iffy, so when seeking help from an Extension office or master gardener, try to have a bloom available. The Washington State Noxious Weed List is also a helpful ID site, as well as UC Davis weed identification. A dichotomous key is an old-school tool that allows the user to determine the identity of items in the natural world, such as trees, wildflowers, mammals, reptiles, rocks, and fish. Keys consist of a series of choices that lead the user to the correct name of a given item. A better random access ID key are the multi-access keys like at the Burke Museum. The definition of a weed includes that it should:  1) be a nuisance, 2) be a hazard, 3) cause injury to man and animals, 4) compete with garden plants for soil nutrients, light and water and 5) harbor insect and disease pests. Common weeds have been brought to us through agriculture. They often grow fast, produce many seeds, have an effective seed dispersal system, as well as reproduce through rhizomes, stem tips and are tolerant to all kinds of soil. In order to develop some sort of seed defense strategy, we must understand their appearance and life cycles.

Weed Appearance: Weeds can be classified as either broadleaf (dicots) or grasses (monocots). You know these culprits well. Broadleafs have veins that radiate from a larger vein and typically have taproots like dandelions or fibrous roots, like lambsquarters. Grasses have long, narrow leaves with veins that are parallel to each other. Most, but not all grasses have a fibrous root system. Just when we thought it’s a matter of control in spring, Joan provided the following disheartening data—their life cycles.

Life Cycle: Weeds can be either annuals, biennials or perennials. This does not spell good news for occasional weeders. Joan warned that the dreaded “shot weed”, that produced groans from the audience, should be tackled before it blooms and you end up with a much larger invasion. The groans continued with some ugly photos of broadleaf dock, common chickweed, deadnettle, willow herb, vetch, dandelion, sow thistle, buttercup, Queen Anne’s lace, wild carrot, and the farmer’s bane—cow parsnip or giant hogweed, etc. The annual weeds germinate, grow, flower and set seed in a single growing season. Biennials complete their life cycle in two growing seasons. They germinate and form a rosette the first year, but in the second year they flower, set seed and die. Perennials, on the other hand, grow for many years, and can spread only by seed or by a vegetative process.

Noxious Weeds: Our state has a very detailed Noxious Weed List as it included the entire state with diverse growing conditions. In addition to the state list, there are county lists, which include Class A, B and C (widespread) weeds of concern. Examples included purple loosestrife, tansy ragwort, (non-regulated) giant knotweed with a white flower that spreads underground, ilex—English holly and blackberries. Wildflowers that are not natives like California poppies, orange hawkweed and oxeye daisy are also listed on all websites. However, there are nice natives that can be found on Washington Wildflowers, UW Burke Museum and High Country Apps that can be downloaded onto your phone for help in identification while hiking. Nice natives include: Pacific bleeding hearts, stinky bob – geraniums, spirea douglasii, catchweed, sticky willy, lupines, wood sorrel, coltsfoot – petasites and yes, the irritant nettles for their medicinal/edible value.  And then we delved into the nittis-grittis…

Weed  Management Strategies: First and foremost on the list: have realistic goals. You’re never going to have a weed-free site. Second, keep the highly visible areas in the best shape. Best practices include prevention, mechanical control, cultural control and finally, chemical control. Joan stressed to remember the particular offensive weed’s life cycle. If it’s an annual that only reproduces by seeds, mulch so that seeds are not exposed to sun. For biennials/perennials with their longer growing seasons, Joan recommended cutting back woody plants, trees and shrubs allowing better access to these aggressors. Cultural control methods can include raised beds, drought tolerant garden plants where you can limit the watering, maintain healthy plants that are competitive, and avoid “dirty digging”. Not a new dance move, but it’s the notion that weeds are spread every time the soil is overturned for planting. A strategy is to remove the soil after digging, add mulch and replace as the mulch decomposes.

Ground covers are another alternative, but these need to get established over 1-3 growing seasons in order to be an effective deterrent. And remember their named ground cover for a reason. Chemical controls are not a panacea. Read directions and labels before using—there are pre-emergent, post-emergent and established chemical controls. Round-up is a non-selective killer—not always a best choice. She cautioned to cover up by wearing gloves, masks and shoes. Pre-emergents are overused and can damage plants and it doesn’t work for all weeds. Other alternatives include vinegar (on a dry day), hot water and goats (blackberries). Continual mowing of blackberries has shown some effectiveness.

Finally, dealing with the weed remains. Decomposition takes time and it’s best to remove into commercial compost yard waste services. You can chip, burn, or compost (only green material) as well. Treating stumps with Roundup immediately after a cut has been made can be effective. If you use a weed and feed lawn fertilizer, do not use your grass clippings as a mulch or use on roses/tomatoes. Boiling water/vinegar are very effective for pavement crack weeds, and of course, my favorite—the flame thrower. Nothing beats the “blood, sweat and tears methods”: hand-weeding, cultivation (recommended tools—hori-hori knife, loppers/pruners), deadheading repeatedly, solarization (black plastic bags spread with offending weeds on the driveway for frying), or mulches/super mulches. Joan’s tips also included the idea that summer is better for heavy weed infestations, be thorough, tenacious (many weeds require 2-3 years for eradication) and finally, do not exhaust yourself.

Joan then switched gears and presented some godzilla plants that often take over the world or maybe just your garden. These included 36 common mistakes found in my little corner of the world, like Ajuga, grape hyacinths, toadflax, Crocosmia (lucifer is not a problem), Lychnis, forget-me-nots, sweet woodruff, love in a mist, lemon balm, Oxalis, mint, Vinca, etc. Some vines are also considered the problem kids in the plant world, including trumpet vine, English ivy, Hall’s honeysuckle, wisteria ( and others).  Joan cautioned to avoid wildflower mixes as these contain invasives. Joan wrapped up her discussions with an Eleanor Roosevelt quote about learning from the mistakes of others. “You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself”.

Judith Zuglish: Introducing You to the Hardy Cyclamen

(edited from Kay L.)

Judy owns Marysville’s Bouquet Banque Nursery with partner Bill Roeder. The topic of cyclamen is close to their hearts. Since the early ‘90s, they have been raising Cyclamen which they market in 4” pots. Every plant is grown from seed to a flowering plant, a process with takes 4-5 years. They custom mix their own soil and seedling propagation is done by hand. Judy is also an avid basket weaver, using materials from her own gardens, as well as other areas, to form not only baskets but works of art for the garden.

We usually think of cyclamens as the  indoor plants we see sold in stores during the winter (Cyclamen persicum). The hardy cyclamen flourishes outdoors in our area and one species is a winter jewel producing bright color spots of flowers, even in the snow. They do well in our area because they like shade and cool temperatures. Hardy cyclamen are slow growers, taking four years to grow from seeds into flower producing plants. Fortunately we have Judy and Bill do to the hard work for us and we can purchase many species and varieties of beautiful blooming hardy cyclamen from Bouquet Banque.

Species that do well in the Pacific Northwest include Cyclamen hederiifoleum and Cyclamen coum. Cyclamen hederiifoleum has leaves in winter and shows flowers before leaves summer to autumn. The winter jewel Cyclamen coum blooms winter to spring and overlaps with crocus and snowdrops. Each of its tubers produces dozens of flowers in the winter. One corm can fill a 10 gallon pot with blooming flowers after 4 years.  Cyclamen cilicium also grows here and is unusual because its blooms are fragrant. It blooms from late summer to autumn. Colors of all species vary from magenta to white but they mainly come in shades of pink. Cyclamen also have variegation or patterns on the leaves, which adds to the interest.

Cyclamens tolerate snow and freezing temperatures, but frost can damage them. They don’t do well in wet conditions and they don’t tolerate dry heat or full sun. Plant them under a tree or in partial shade in an area with good drainage. They do better if they are planted in groups. They are deer and rabbit resistant, but slugs love them.  They can bloom for 10 months. The bigger the corm, the more leaves and blossoms. Cyclamens will push through any mulch (lava rock is a good choice) and they don’t need much fertilizer.

Cyclamens can self-propagate in your garden. Flowering plants will put out seed which ants will spread around the area. They love edges where good drainage occurs. It will take four years for the seeds to grow into flowering plants. Don’t move them in their first two years. .

Other shade-loving plants Judy suggests that complement Hardy Cyclamen: Disporum sessile, Anemone, Trillium, Corydalis, Epimedium, Vancouverias, Dysosma, Podophyllum versipelle, Podophyllum disporum, Lycoris, Rodgersia, daylily, Polygala (container plant), Hellebore, Chelone.

Susie Egan: Shade Gardening: Bring Beauty to your Garden with Shade-Loving Plants

Susie began her slide show by distributing a Cottage Lake Gardens hand-out entitled “Susie’s Favorite Plants for Shade” with all identifying factors, so that we could follow along more easily and reference those we’d be interested in adding to our landscape. In the past, she has spoken on “Fall Fireworks” and “Native Plants”, so she was excited to discuss shade gardening, which she described as “different, but beautiful”. Almost everyone in our neck of the woods has some form of shade—whether it’s under a tree, on the north side or heavily wooded. We should embrace the shade as it offers serenity and relaxation year round. However, not all shade is equal and thus, choosing the right types of plants for your shade is paramount.

Three types of shade include: 1) Part Shade—Dappled, 3-6 hours of sunlight, no hot sun, most versatile with wide range of plantings; 2) Deep Shade—Less than 3 hours of sunlight, 3) Moist Shade—Consistent moisture for moisture loving plants, and 4) Dry Shade—Always shady and low rainfall, biggest challenge with many books on this subject and extra watering can mitigate this area. With all of these types of shade, you can include an incredible palette of plant diversity.

Starting from the top story down to ground covers/ferns, Susie selected trees first. And our favorite NW trees, which thrive in shade are the Acers (maples)—native vine maples, Japanese maples, Manchurian Snakebark Maple, Paper Bark Maple and an additional Katsura tree, which will take a fair amount of shade with its heart-shaped leaves, scents and beautiful fall color.

Shrubs were the next understory with some natives mixed into the shade blend—Evergreen and deciduous huckleberries (slow growers), Sarcococca, Osmanthus (sweet olive), Leucothes and Saw-toothed Japanese Aucuba.

Favorite Perennials included Anemomes (wood and rue—available at Far Reaches Farm), several varieties of Brunerra (Siberian Bugloss), hardy cyclamens (next month’s speaker) which can be either winter or spring bloomers, Erythronium (fawn or trout lily, dog-tooth violet) with flowers that look like fairy lanterns, Helleborus, Hostas, and of course, the myriads of Trilliums (whites, reds and yellows), which started in the Great Smoky Mountains. Susie cautioned that voles get the trout lilies here, so cage them before placing in the garden. Her response to a question about slugs: For slug control, she uses Sluggo in spring and fall and there’s always the very effective, but messy beer trap. This is the time of year to trim back last year’s hellebore leaves to better display the flowers and help eliminate botrytis. She discussed Winter Jewels breeder Marietta O’Byrne’s collection at Oregon’s NW Garden Nursery. You’re guaranteed to have many one of a kind plants at this nursery. For texture variety, the stinking and Corsican Hellebores have finger-like, serrated foliage.

Finally, the lower levels of shade, the Groundcovers featured vanilla leaf, wild ginger, Solomon seal, twinflower and Oxalis (wood sorrel), which has a scary reputation for taking over, but can be easily contained.

This was followed by another bottom dweller, Ferns. Some of her favorites included maidenhair, deer, tassel, tatting and Hart’s Tongue ferns—with their unusual, evergreen, tongue-like fronds. Susie concluded with the thought that shade gardening just offers more opportunities for color, texture and great design. Now that we have some of her favorite shady characters, the many shades of success became that much easier.

Laura Wildfong: New Hot Plants Showcase for 2016-17 from the Farwest Trade Show

Laura described August’s Farwest Trade Show in Portland as a “far from ordinary” event. It is here that nursery folks get a hint of what will be offered in the spring from growers and orders are placed. Information on the 55 outstanding new trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and vine hotties included the grower source and the plant’s unusual characteristics. Several plants landed in the “exceed expectations” camp including the show’s award winners Babycakes Blackberry (Best in Show) and Lava Lamp Sublime Hydrangea (People’s Choice Award). A panel of judges selected the Best of Show and Outstanding Plants based on three criteria: Value to the landscape, retail appeal and uniqueness of the plant characteristics. Honorable mention awards went to: Purple Pillar Rose of Sharon, First Editions, Sunset Magic Crape Myrtle and Cherry Berries Wintergreen. Runners-up for People’s Choice Award were: Cherry Berries Wintergreen, First Editions, Sunset Magic Crape Myrtle and Hollywood Hibiscus ‘Hot Shot’.

Sometimes plants don’t live up to their promotional materials, so Laura paired the 55 selections down to 20-30 that wowed her. As an added bonus, Laura generously brought along numerous plant give-aways. True to her Acer love, Laura first presented Plum Passion, a vine maple (Acer circinatum) that is smaller in size (8-12 ft).  From radiant green leaves to purple and white flowers to its scarlet samaras, the brilliant displays of color delight the senses throughout its seasons. Foliage turns brilliant red in the fall. Acer palmatum ‘Radiant’ was also a stunner. The variegation is very consistent, and is more pink than ‘Ukigumo’.  ‘Radiant’ has incredible pink, green and white foliage throughout the year that is most pronounced in a bit of shade. Variegation extends to the twigs as well, which show some striping.

Pink Kiss Anemone was picked because it will not flop as it is a dwarf with loads of prolific, pink flowers and prefers full sun. Utah Columbine is not your ordinary columbine—it is uncommonly blue flowered and dense, tightly compact mounding foliage can be used as a ground cover that reblooms. A new Ceanothus introduction, ‘Lemon Ice’ is a low maintenance California lilac. Striking blue flowers sit atop brilliant lemon and lime variegated foliage. Low Scape Hedger Chokeberry is a tough, tolerant, tidy little mound of glossy green foliage. In spring, it’s covered in hundreds of dainty white flowers, and in autumn, the leaves turn brilliant red to contrast with dark, purple-black edible fruit. Deer resistant. Sunjoy Tangelo Barberry, is another tough shrub, but has vivid orange foliage that develops a distinctive chartreuse margin as the season goes on. Stronger growing than other variegated cultivars, it is colorful throughout the seasons.

A grass entry, EverColor Carex ‘Everlight’, maintenance free, this dwarf grass foliage is cream with dark green edges and great in containers or small spaces. Gaultheria (wintergreen) Cherry Berries offers exceptionally large red berries and bears fruit fall through spring. Its evergreen, glossy green foliage turns merlot-colored in winter. A new hellebore, Ice and Roses Red Hellebore, boasts a high stem count, high flower count and an amazing flower-to-foliage ratio after only one season of growth. Carousel Pink Passion Hibiscus is herbaceous and hardy down to zone 5.  First Editions, French Cabaret Blush Hibiscus was another show-stopper with double flowers in large pompoms, resembling those of double carnations. Dark pink flower buds open to a delicate blush pink with shades of white. Compact in size, heat tolerant and easy to grow. Purple Pillar Rose of Sharon with its semi-double purple blooms can reach heights from 10 to 16 ft, making it a good plant for a tight spot.

Heavenly Ascent Holboellia Vine (Sausage Vine) is a Dan Hinckley introduction with large, highly scented white flowers that are contrasted by deep purple stems. The flower display is followed by edible, sausage-shaped, purpled fruits, when pollinated. Great vining on a trellis. Onyx hydrangea ‘Flamingo‘ is a stunning selection with strong, black stems and beautifully colored pink flowers that bloom on old and new wood. Another great introduction Seaside Serenade Cape Cod Hydrangea has shown to be a good rebloomer summer through fall. With strong stems and short internodes, it won’t be flopped all over your garden. Seaside Serenade Fire Island Hydrangea starts out with glossy bronze spring foliage that gives way to bicolored blooms of red and white that develops into deep pink with dark bronze fall color.

Lava Lamp Sublime Hydrangea (paniculata) creamy white flowers with lime green centers is extremely unique, as the color appears to be glowing green from the center. It boasts very strong stems. Babycakes Blackberry is a dwarf, thornless blackberry with showy, white spring flowers; lush green spring and summer foliage; and large and sweet summer blackberries that produce on the plant in a fireworks-like spray of fruit. Container-worthy. First Editions Sunset Magic Crape Myrtle is a compact beauty with large, almost true red inflorescences that cover the dark foliage when it flowers. It flowers more heavily than other reds with dark foliage. Deep, black-purple leaves are flatter, more lustrous and hold their dark color into late summer. Great specimen hedge.

Laura mentioned that the general public is welcome at Farwest Trade Show. Growers get booths, with names like Monrovia or Iseli anchoring the center. Nursery bus tours are offered, so a view of Iseli’s Arboretum could happen, as they’ve loosened restrictions. T&L do their introductions here, but the hybridizing happens in Germany. These assessments are based solely upon looks; as it remains to be seen how plants actually perform in gardens (some are just too new to really say). Laura mentioned that some newbies are already available this fall in garden centers and certainly by spring. For a complete list of “new” plants go to www.farwestshow.com. These are just some of the wonderful attributes in this year’s New Varieties Showcase. Growers and breeders hope they will capture the attention of home gardeners, retailers, and landscapers alike—they certainly captured ours. Now, let the hunt begin. Plants that Laura brought for possible winners included: Crepe Myrtle “Moonlight Magic”, Dogwood alba “Baton Rouge”, Hydrangea paniculata “White Diamonds”, Fatsia “Spiderweb”, and Oakleaf Hydrangea “Jetstream”.

Daralee Newkirk: Daylily Daze – A Perfect, Carefree Summer Perennial

Daralee Newkirk describes herself as a “daylily evangelist” and has been fascinated by hemerocallis for over 20 years. She has championed the perennial in several daylily organizations (both local and national) as member, garden judge, NW Daylily Society Past-President, Program Chair, Auctioneer and general worker bee to promote her passion.

 Along with her beautiful and informative daylily slides of breathtaking  orchid-like bloomers, double rufflers, dwarfs and miniature varieties, she also brought along some of the prized left-over daylilies for sale from the recent Daylily Society Plant Sale. We always delight in a plant-buying frenzy and this was very timely for summer bloom planting. Daralee was accompanied by her husband, also a daylily society member, who helped with the presentation. A very familiar daylily, Hemerocallis fulva (orange), which is found in every car dealership, strip mall and corporate planting strip, is used because it’s a hardy species that runs and needs little care.  But this common daylily was the start of Daralee’s obsession as a daylily collector. In Kansas, she had well over 600 plants in five years that were placed alphabetically and 8 inches apart. She began by defining a daylily as a survivor/thriver, and rightly so.

The name Hemerocallis is derived from the Greek hemera meaning day and kalos which means beauty; thus, the term of blooming for one day is derived. This is a herbaceous perennial and a perennial border staple. There’s a size, shape and color for almost every situation, and thanks to all the hybridizing over the years, tremendous volumes of varieties exist. Each flower blooms for one day, but the number of buds on each scape averages fifteen, therefore providing two weeks of bloom. Some will produce more flower stems extending the flowering time and some are repeat bloomers. Flower colors vary from pearly white, orange, yellow, red, pink, purple, melon and brown in varying shades and in all combinations.

In essence, blooms could extend from May to October. Here in the NW, daylilies require 6 hours of sunshine. The plant’s habit is clumping, with foliage evergreen or semi-evergreen to deciduous. The leaves are arching and emerge bright green in the spring. The stout flower stems or scapes are very strong and don’t need staking. Daralee mentioned that this is an edible plant, with the buds equaling 42 calories and the lighter the color and the smaller, the sweeter the taste, with darker colors having a bitter taste. Leaves are used as a tea in China. They can be found in Asian markets and used in stir fry dishes, but more commonly the fresh petals can be used in salads, with the buds and flowers used in soups.

Daylilies spread from Eurasia with the pioneers, as they traveled west. Dr. Arlow B. Stout, a famous hybridizer American botanist and the pioneer breeder of the modern daylily, produced over 100 viable Hemerocallis hybrids, revolutionizing nursery breeding and popular interest in daylilies. With over 80,000 varieties today, it’s easy to get them from other gardeners or local groups, who have the latest and greatest to share at sales. Daralee cautioned not trying to get the 2016 introductions, as those can go for $150 per plant. Locally, daylily displays and sales occur at the Highline Botanical Garden and Weyerhaeuser sites. Great sites to visit for daylily displays include the flower exhibition at the Ballard Locks, American Hemerocallis Society and Daylilies.org. Colors differ here from Florida or mid-western parts of the country, since you get the colors from the layers burning off—Always Afternoon was shown as an example of these differences. This is not a fussy plant—give it mostly average, fertile, well-drained soils and water as needed, generally about 1 inch of water per week. It can also tolerate wet locations and grow streamside.

Planting for daylilies: Any day is a good day to divide and dig with tools like an edger, hori-hori knife, steak knife, hacksaw, machete, or sharp shovel, etc. Densely crowned big mamma daylilies must be boldly ripped apart. Make one big whack across the center of the stubborn plant and the rest will fall into place. Usually, older plants that are too big to split by hand will have a tough central core that is too woody to be productive anyway. Toss the oldest bits and divide the remainder. Daralee described a cool tool called the Daylily Divider. An indicator for dividing is when the daylily quantity and/or quality of bloom begin to decrease.

Companion plants to the daylily include grasses, crocosmia, nepeta, geranium, polygonum or persicaria for the summer border. They benefit from mulching, deadheading and removing dead foliage and spent scapes. Planting instructions from Daralee included using the measurement of wrist to elbow as a distance to plant apart, remembering that they spread out. You can set them in water until you’re ready to plant without doing harm. She also offered the hint to place the label (sharpie pen written on plastic stretchy construction tape) in with the planting, so that when divisions happen, you can uncover the name of the variety for future identity. Slides of unusual forms and colors were shown that can take blooming from late May until October—one day at a time. Pauline Henry of Siloam Spring, Arkansas was one of the leading daylily hybridizers, which has enough volume now to offer for sale. Daralee recommended the double classic, gorgeous dwarf reblooming daylily with 5” fragrant double-pink blooms and it’s an award winner.

Pests: These perennials are tough as nails and can take a lot of abuse, but do have some pests/diseases to contend with, specifically slugs, spider mites, thrips, gall midge and rust. Examples of gall midge problems, which came into the US ten years ago from Canada, were shown. These very small midges have one life cycle only and attack mostly the early blooms. They live in the ground, stay through the winter and lay over 900 eggs. When you first see the abnormally shaped flower buds, usually the very first flower buds that form, nip them off and place in a ziplock bag for disposal. Do not put diseased parts in the compost bin or freeze them. Gall midge can be controlled with a two-phase pesticide as well. Beneficial controls are still being investigated.

Questions were answered regarding fertilizer—do not give them a lot of nitrogen—which means low compost use. Aside from these controllable pests, daylilies don’t require any sort of special pampering, soils, staking, etc. and come in all kinds of shapes and sizes for the perennial border. She also mentioned the daylily sale prices for some of the leftover beauties that would happen during the break. Daralee closed with the thought that “your best garden is still in front of you” and “daylilies play well with others”– thoughts that call to mind the trend of low-maintenance flower gardening at its best. Author Ann Lovejoy kind of sums up these dazzlers as: “these girl-next-doors can outperform many a sulky border beauty, returning a minimum of care with a generous outpouring of bloom year after year”. Daralee simply confirmed that assessment.

Marian Maxwell: Introduction to Mushrooming in the Pacific Northwest

Marian is a Mushroom Identifier and Educator, who has an extensive background in mycological organizations (5 years as President, Puget Sound Mycological Society, PSMS) and continual education in this field. Marian provided a recommended booklist sheet of Intro to NW Mushrooming, as well as a business card and email: marianmaxwell@hotmail.com. She described the PSMS as the largest mycological society (over 2,400) since 2014 (including San Francisco). Her education includes UW degrees in botany and biology and she studied under the renowned Dr. Daniel Stuntz, who studied poisonous mushrooms among others.

A drama with mushrooms had a famous line, “There are two kinds that will kill you and one to stay away from”, which is indicative of how careful we must be while hunting wild mushrooms. Equipped with slides of beautiful, yet sometimes treacherous mushrooms, we were in awe of her unbounded fungi knowledge. A basic primer on where fungi falls in the five accepted major kingdoms of life on Earth and how they’re organized was given: 1) Monera (single-celled organisms), 2) Protists (mostly single-celled with a nucleus, 3) Fungi (motionless organisms that absorb nutrients for survival), 4) Plants (contain chlorophyll, cellulose and fixed in one place), and 5) Animals (multi-celled, eat food and have nervous systems).

Fungi are made up of yeasts, rusts, smuts, molds and fungi. Mushrooms, the focus of Marian’s talk, contain a vast category of specimens. Mushrooms are a fruiting body and come in all shapes, sizes and descriptions, as well as smells. They range in size from pin-size to the large parasol mushroom. There are bracket fungi, which extend from tree trunks and giant puffballs. They come in many colors—all shades of red, orange, lavender or violet and black or white. There are rare green mushrooms and some blue. Some even change colors. Texture is another mushroom identifier: some slime-covered and others with satin-soft caps. Some feel like velvet and some have hairs or even wart-like appearance. Mushrooms have a great variety of odors. Some smell like fragrant flowers, some nut-like and others are nauseating. And then there is the variety in mushroom flavors from those considered to be the world’s greatest delicacies to those with terrible tastes. If mushrooms look odd with strange growing patterns, they are entirely consistent with their fungi botanical division.

There are two seasons when mushrooms are prolific: spring and fall. They are asexual and sexual, heterotrophic (utilizing only organic materials as a food source) and can be parasitic. Fungi such as yeasts and molds are beneficial and without them we wouldn’t receive our daily bread or alcohol and cheeses. Fungi evolved to externally digest its nutrients, and projected a fine filamentous, cobweb-like cellular networks known as mycelium. Mushrooms are a fruit of the mycelium, which Marian described as like the internet—very quick to respond. With some poisonous mushroom varieties that resemble otherwise tasty ones, it becomes paramount to identify what you find.

There are several ways to identify mushrooms: smell, texture of the cap, bruising, how they react with chemicals (iodine), their caps and gills, feel of the cap, spore print color and when in doubt–ask an expert. Speaking of experts, Marian called out mycologist Paul Stamets, as one who is researching extractions of fungi for health benefits and as an aid in chemotherapy.  Recent research now shows the consumption of Reishi and Turkey Tail mushrooms, not only boost the immune system, but also balance the microbiome in favor of these beneficial bacteria, resulting in better digestion.

Fungi are grouped into Symbionts (close and long symbiotic associations, which are mutually beneficial to both organisms, i.e., lichens and mycorrhizas); Saprophytes (they grow on dead organic matter such as fallen trees, cow patties, dead leaves, and even dead insects and animals) and Parasitic (thrive by latching on to other living organisms and taking nutrients from them). In addition, there are carnivorous fungi that derive some or most of their nutrients from trapping and eating microscopic or minute animals. They do this because they need nitrogen, e.g., many species trap or stun nematodes. Saprotrophic Oyster mushroom, a commonly edible mushroom, is an example of a type available most of the year that catches nematodes and stuns them with a toxin.

Other mushrooms Marian displayed included the spring porcinis which are hunted in the late spring into early summer and the Prince which has an almond or maraschino cherry smell. Matsutake mushrooms have a pine and cinnamon spicy fragrance and the bears head tooth mushroom can be found near hemlock trees and has a lobster/crab taste. Marian described a shrooming adventure on the Bob Rivers radio show a few years back for matsutake mushrooms that were then used for pickling.  Harvesting permits and rules can be found on the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s website (www.psms.org). There are hazards associated with poisonous mushrooms and there are no antidotes, even though milk thistle is suggested as a help to liver/kidney failure if given quickly. Poisoning from Death Cap mushrooms (which look similar to other fungi) are often difficult to diagnose and treat when symptoms appear 12-48 hours later. After the characteristic painful symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, distorted vision and irregular pulse, the victim sinks into a coma from which he seldom recovers. In addition, you don’t need to worry about breathing mushroom spores. If mushroom poisoning is suspected, don’t hesitate to call Poison Control Center or go quickly to the ER.

General Mushroom Questions:  One take-away from our mushroom quest was that cooking breaks down cell walls and morels must be cooked well. When hunting, use a paper bag or a basket for collections, since it keeps them dry and decay-free. Morels grow in burn areas; so 2-3 years after a burn, people swarm into the picking site. Be careful here, since fire retardants may have been used. Another cautionary word was that morels pick up a lot of water and minerals from orchard sites where Alar may have been used. Button mushrooms have carcinogens and can cause digestion problems, so it’s best not to eat them raw. A grocery store trick is to substitute false morels after the true morel season is over. False morels have pithy center caps; whereas a true morel will be hollow. Mushrooms can be preserved by either freezing, drying or making a powder. And the ever-present wash or brush mushroom question was answered with a definite wash for safety. The easier and more efficient way, which some claim will lose some of the flavor, is to hold them under a spray of cool water. Then dry immediately. They must never be soaked as they will lose valuable vitamins and minerals and some of their delicate flavor. Finally, a mention was made of the magic mushroom, Psilocybe mexicana, a well-known psychedelic, but lesser known for its use to treat rehabilitation of criminals and chronic alcoholism. Side Note:  I feel certain the Redmond HS shroomers who followed maps to my lawn weren’t there to recover these mushrooms for that purpose. Mushrooms have been dreaded, adored, prayed to and devoured by cultures all over the world over time immemorial.  In the NW, we sit on mushroom gold-mines and armed with baskets, permits and a reliable mushroom guide with color plates or an expert hunter along, it’s possible to forage safely for that delicious “some kind of mushroom”. Just remember Marian’s words of advice “when in doubt, throw it out”.

Karen Summers: Year-Round Succulents

Karen Summers is an avid cactus/succulent collector and has been a member of the Cascade Cactus and Succulent Society Board of Washington State since 1990, when she first moved to the state. This is the only such club in the state. It has 65 members and meets the 3rd Sunday of the month from 2-4:30 pm at the Phinney Ridge Center. The newsletter is “The Point”. Visitors are welcome. They have a plant sale in September at Skyline Nursery.

What makes a plant a cactus is the presence of an aureole which is fuzzy or a vestigial areole like a spine. Sedums are succulents also. There are many varieties of sedums that can be grown in the NW, but cold and wet weather do not work, so many have to be brought in for winter.  Some of these hardy sedums are: Sempervivum such as “hens and chicks” a hybrid that works here outside. Sedum rupestre is blueish and Sedum aeonium is green and black. Lewisia is a native succulent but needs sun and Euphorbias do well.  Agave will struggle outside because of our cold winters. Other cacti will struggle here as well.  They need heat and south-facing walls. You can actually eat prickly pear cactus, but it’s difficult to prepare because of the spines.  Round cacti are full of water and can retain it as long as 6 months. It can be easily overwatered which is the number one reason for the death of the plant.

Here are some tips on growing succulents:

Soil:  Use potting soil (Edna’s) and no fertilizer, with pumice to drain well.  Put in hot, sunny area.

Drainage:   Add small stuff like gravel.  Throw in some bigger stuff with small around it. Add some soil mixed with gravel, perlite, and sand.

Pots:  Plastic is okay, but clay and ceramic dries out more easily.

Watering:  Water weekly if the temperature is in the 80’s in summer in a hot area. Little fertilizing. Mealy bugs are the major pest.

Choosing Plants:  Winter hardy plants can stay outside all winter in good drainage. If combining several plants together, make sure all plants want the same thing so know their hardiness.  Summer plants can stay in the garage or basement in winter. Container plantings work well.  Use different species for color and variety.

Saguaros are slow growers and growing inside will prevent them growing large. Using seed, they are best grown in crowds and not individually. They need nutrient dense soil. Water when dry and fertilize gently.

For more information and printouts, contact the Cascade Cactus and Succulent Society of Washington State on their website, www.cascadecss.org or Karen Summers at klsumm@hotmail.com.

Joe Grienauer: How to turn orchid killers into orchid growers

Joe began with kiddingly telling us that he will answer our important questions on “new and creative ways to kill orchids”, as he himself has killed tens, hundreds and thousands. Trial and error gardening doesn’t need to be the norm. If orchids can grow naturally in bogs, mountains, and rainforests, they can certainly grow in our homes. Joe will try to take the mystery out of orchid care. Orchids, orchids, everywhere.

Orchids grow in all parts of the world, except Antarctica. Today with at least 35,000 species and well over 300,000 registered cultivars, the Orchidaceae constitutes the largest family of flowering plants in the world. Here in Washington there are 16 native species. With this many varieties available, it’s no wonder that one set of instructions just doesn’t work for all. Contrary to general opinion, orchids are not parasites, although many are air plants or epiphytes. Most are tropical or sub-tropical plants and include: epiphytic (grow in trees), sacrophytic (grow on decomposing organic material), lithophytic (grow on hard surfaces like rocks) and terrestrial (grow on the ground). Those growing in trees or bushes do not get any direct nourishment from these. It is the rain washing down the minerals that helps keep orchids alive. Plants use the trees only for footholds as they wrap their roots around the limbs. Everything on the orchid plant photosynthesizes. Some of the easiest orchids for beginners include Phalaenopsis (moth), Paphiopedilum (lady’s slippers), Oncidium and Cymbidium.

Key factors in getting your orchid to thrive include: 1) Lots of drainage & proper growing medium, 2) Plenty of light in order to bloom, 3) Humidity, ventilation and temperature, 4) Correct water (but not over-watering) and 5) Fertilizer. The ceramic orchid pots (with holes) work well and clay or plastic pots with slots can be used as well.

Light:  Most orchids like at least 4-5 hours of natural daylight, preferably in windows not facing west.

Watering: The “oh shoot” watering schedule was described, as well as two types of gardeners—the Neglector or the Doter and we all know where we fit in those categories. Both qualify as orchid killers, and over-watering is probably the number one killer (a doter characteristic). A good rule of thumb is to let your orchid dry out slightly between waterings so air can circulate between its roots.  They like plenty of humidity, but most don’t like wet feet. Stick your finger in the pot—if it feels dry, it’s time to water thoroughly. Water generously once or twice a week, especially if the orchid is in a small pot and misting is all right if you don’t get it in the crown of the pseudobulbs, which causes rot. The easy orchid Phalaenopsis or moth orchid, has lavish sprays of colorful flowers and will tolerate a very low-light condition and temps of between 65-75 degrees. If your medium for this orchid is moss, the moss should feel like a sponge.  If bark is used, water every 7-10 days. Word of caution about watering, since the foremost killer is overwatering—never water or mist at night as this will cause rot. And a rule of thumb, no water after lunch. If your plant has yellow, plump and slimy leaves, you’re probably overwatering. Running water through the bark medium for 10-15 seconds should suffice. Orchids are semi-succulent with their spaghetti-type roots extending over the pots.  Flowers will always occur from new growth.

Temperatures:  Correct temperature is another edge to the sword, when thinking about survival. Rapid change can shock orchids or shock them into growing leaves. Never go below 60 degrees, and if you do it will take about a week for the plant to die. Plants respond poorly to sudden changes in temperature and to drafts. Joe cited the example of grocery stores that place orchids right by the sliding door entrances for impulse buying, like Safeway, Trader Joe’s, etc.  Many of these plants come in on refrigerated trucks, so they die weekly. When wrapped in cellophane, death starts at the bottom (where water accumulates) and goes up. He’s found that Whole Foods does it right and places the orchids away from drafts. Generally, Phalaenopsis do well at between 65-75 degrees temperatures with night-time temps a little lower.

Ventilation:  Since most orchids are considered air plants, they rely on air circulation in their native environment. Given the absence of that in our homes, provide some air circulation in summer (along with humidity) and winter with low-speed fans directed away from the plants and shut off at night.

Fertilizer:  Joe likes the rule of “weakly/weekly” for the feeding of orchids, since bark medium is deficient in nitrogen. Because he’s in the growing/breeding business, he uses whatever’s on sale or what he can get the best deal on. A liquid 1/8th to ¼ tsp. dosage works well, but using ½ tsp. might create salt buildup. Using plain water once a month to flush the orchid will help prevent salt buildup in the pot. A fertilizer that has high first numbers, such as 30-10-10, which indicates high nitrogen, can be used (weakly) all year. He uses non-urea fertilizer, since there is no poop or pee in the trees and he likes to mimic that environment. Dyna-grow liquid bloom plant food is also a good fertilizer for blooms. When you want to encourage blooms, switch to a high bloom fertilizer, and once you see the flower spikes appear, go back to your regular fertilizer. When the bloom spike is finished, clip it back to the node on the same scape just above the base of the plant.  He reminded us that the amount of attention you can give the plants is much more than growers do, so sometimes the mantra “less is more” is useful. If those nasty viruses/fungi attack…fungicides work well.

Bloom Promotion:  The number one question:  why won’t my orchid rebloom?  It may be that your orchid just got lazy—the temps are too consistent, so they will not rebloom. They need to go through a seasonal change like 60-65 degrees for about a week in these conditions and then brought back to the warmer temps. It’s astounding, but the state flower for Minnesota is an orchid…so talk about seasonal changes—that has to be the extreme.  Also check the amount of water or the amount of sun (too much). To the eye an orchid plant may appear completely dormant for months.  Don’t try to force growth under these conditions, just wait for the signs of regrowth from fresh white roots or tiny green shoots.  It also may need a different day-length. A bloom comes out from where two leaves above the node actually come out. Look for a two-leaf spot on the same side of the pseudobulb. It makes leaves as it flowers from the crown and generally 2-3 leaves can be produced per year. Place in a bright indirect light, preferably a north window, when blooms are evident.

Trimming the Stem:  After the blooms have fallen off, you can look for a “cat claw” protrusion on the stem and trim down to that site, leaving the cat claw in place.  This may produce another bloom.  If no cat claw is seen, cut the stem down to the base.  Generally, blooms can last 1-3 months and the orchids will rebloom (if all goes well) in a one-year cycle.

Joe then took us briefly onto an informative “sex lives” of orchids tour. Those beautiful and diverse blooms have throats or lips which act as pollinator landing pads. Orchid pollen is not a dust, but more like a jelly. A single central structure, the column, contains male and female parts fused together and hidden from view. He described orchids as the “worst parents in the world”. The back of the flower contains the ovary, where babies (100,00 to one million seeds) will float into the air (bad parenting). They’re offspring will start to flower about the time they reach 6-7 years old. Joe described his breeding process using Johnny Walker seed jars (35 seeds per jar)—from which plugs are developed.

Potting 101:  Orchids benefit from an annual repotting every two years, (spring, but not summer). It’s best to keep them in the pot for as long as you can. Since they prefer cramped conditions, only increase the pot size by a little. If the change is too dramatic the plant may rot. Use fresh bark or moss. Joe uses fir bark, perlite with a touch of charcoal as the best medium and likes to have 3 pseudobulbs per division. Carefully remove the orchid from the bark. You may need to run water over the roots to loosen them and to remove all bits of bark. Use a sterile, sharp clipper to judiciously clip away dried or stringy roots, leaving the plump roots untouched. Also remove unhealthy leaves. Put little layers of bark in the bottom followed by a damp mix of the bark medium. Joe demonstrated a separation of pseudobulbs with a ripping motion. He liked to say that “violence is the answer”. Then gently set the plant inside the pot, cover the roots and fill in the sides with more planting mix. Tamp bark around the edges with a stick to secure the roots. Don’t water for several days, so the plant will be forced to send its roots down into its new home. Joe also passed around a different growing medium—a slab of bark (preferably cork bark that is slow to rot) with the medium (osmunda) and pseudobulbs attached firmly by wire.  The result was a natural-looking orchid on a branch. However, this method tends to make orchids dry out faster, so they need more attention for watering needs. Joe then opened up the meeting for an Orchid Q&A session.

Questions:   Wrinkles in psuedobulbs (underwatering—that would be the neglectful), Spots (botrytis or a bacteria). He mentioned that typically Sherrie Baby (chocolate scented) ends up with spots. Bugs (use a cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol 90% as the first line of defense or squishing or neem oil). Joe talked about using a spray bottle (not clear), since the gaskets and seals are stronger with the following bug spray recipe: Fill the bottle up with mostly water. Add a spoonful of neem oil, and a drop of Dawn soap. Microwave for about 10 seconds. To eliminate pests, you must disturb their life cycle. Mealy bugs and aphids should be destroyed on sight—no mercy. The oil treatment can be done in winter.  Fungus is the result of poor air circulation—use that fan. Where to find Native Orchids?  Mt. Rainier has a spring-time show and these are protected. The Native Orchid Clubs often do field trips to the Portland area.  Temps – Dendrobiums & Cimbidiums: 55 degrees and 45 degrees.  Cimbidiums can be grown outside in shady spots, but bring in by the first frost, so they can bloom in the winter.

Additional advice:  When selecting orchids, explain where you’re going to grow it, be honest about describing your gardening self, and changing the environment often does not work. Finally, whether

Elaine Keehn: Tree & Shrub Propagation-Turn a Stem into a Landscape Star

Elaine Keehn introduced herself as a Master Gardener for many years, Pine Lake Garden Club member and owner of Redmond’s Stone Hollow Farm & Nursery> Her gardening story begins after she made a living as a chemist and bought a property up on the Plateau. She has since downsized from 2-1/2 acres to a one acre garden, where she cultivates/propagates drought resistant plants and specializes in hardy hebes and fuschias. Elaine pursued her love of plants with a Horticulture degree from Fordham University, where she learned much about propagation and applied that liberally at her farm/business. We quickly discerned from her demo that Elaine is, as she puts it, “a nut for collecting and growing plants”. We learned that she just can’t help herself from collecting seeds and her refrigerator is full of all things that will grow.

Elaine’s seed germination “bible” is Chemistry Professor Norm Deno’s 1993 Penn State book, Seed Germination Theory and Practice. She regularly gets updates. In addition, Elaine also uses the Arboretum’s Cuttings Through the Year—a booklet that examines cuttings propagation. Propagation is defined as the use of seeds or other parts of living plants to produce more of the same. Propagation methods include seeds or cuttings, layering, division or grafting.

SEEDS: Every seed is a little embryo plant or as Elaine likes to say, “a seed is a plant with its own lunch”. Nearly all seeds are produced within “fruits”—a ripened ovary. Seed collecting and planting is the most common propagation method, which allows for a large number of plants quickly. That said, you cannot duplicate hybrids or variegated plants with seeds. Dispersal of seeds away from the parent plant occurs naturally—as we can attest to with weed populations. The size and shape of the seedpod or the seeds influences how they are dispersed. Dispersal methods include gravity, bursting or shaking, wind, floating in the air and water and by animals. Seeds must be viable, ripened on the plant and undamaged. Thus, it’s important to get your seeds from a reliable source. There’s a fine determinant on when seeds are collected for germination—too late and the seeds will have dispersed, too early and they will not germinate at all. Elaine mentioned Bob Lilly (NPA Borders head at BBG) as a master of knowing when each genus’s seeds are ready.

Most seeds need a drying time, but if damp, leave them in the sun to dry thoroughly. If you are not sowing them immediately, store them sealed in a cool, dry place until needed (around 40o). Some seeds need to be very fresh (just off the plant) and some can be years old like Adonis (pheasant’s eye), which requires 6 months of drying time. Seeds with a hard coat need scarification or stratification. A few drops of hydrogen peroxide in a quart of water will help in this process. Inoculant powder is needed for pea seeds—simply roll the seeds in it. Speaking of peas, she doesn’t go in for the Feb. date of Washington’s birthday for sowing peas. Instead shoot for April or May. Seed examples Elaine mentioned were the horse chestnut that looks like it’s surrounded by a space suit and cyclamen seeds that are spread by ants and animals. Delphinium seeds need darkness to germinate. Essential elements for planting seeds include a barren mix without fertilizer, very good drainage, clean pots and a warm spot. Do not over water and keep at temps between 65 to 70 degrees. Label and date your pots/trays. Fertilize after the first true leaves appear. Other propagation methods Elaine briefly covered were cuttings, bulbs and divisions.

CUTTINGS: Cuttings allow you to grow a replica of the parent plant using shoots, roots and leaves. Softwood (youngest shoots—the fastest growers) or hardwood cuttings (when shoots are about a year old) are taken in different times of the year. Trim the stem base to below a node (leaf joint) and remove the lower leaves. Elaine likes to have at least two nodes, but acknowledges that you only need one. Dip the stem into rooting powder and insert it into the compost to just below its lowest leaves and water. The cuttings need special care in the early stages in order to encourage new roots. Since some cuttings can take up to 6 months to root, it’s important to leave them alone until a new set of leaves appear on the stem indicating a readiness for planting. Cultivars do not come true, so you need to do asexual divisions. Houseplants (like African Violets) can be increased with leaf cuttings.

LAYERING: Layering is one of the easiest propagation methods, used primarily for increasing a wide range of shrubs, trees and climbers. Simple layering is when a soft, flexible shoot is bent down to touch the soil and anchored. A small amount of compost or rooting hormone placed at the contact point will help. Sever the stem from the mother plant when roots have emerged.

PLANT DIVISIONS: Elaine acknowledged that as a garden club, we’re aware of perennial divisions and those that produce new growth from its base are excellent choices for this method. Bulbs create offsets or bulbils, so when dividing bulbs remove these from the parent bulb. It can take about 4 years to have a flowering bulb from these divisions. Lilies are famously creating bulbils on sections of the stem. You can remove these, treating them in the same way. As time was running out, Elaine moved onto a softwood cutting demonstration.

CUTTING DEMONSTRATION: Elaine offered the wisdom of visiting friend’s gardens with clippers in hand, in case a specimen calls to you to take it home. Elaine brought along a healthy, non-flowering dogwood juvenile growth stem of about 4 to 10 inches in length. With 2 nodes, she cut the stem at about ¼” below the node. Most of the leaves were removed. Nick or wound the stem by scraping the bark and place in rooting hormone. Nicking could be done on both sides of the stem. She uses 30% potting soil and 70% perlite when starting these cuttings in 4” pots and the cuttings can be crowded to about an inch apart—maybe 4 to 5 per 4” pot. Water from the bottom and make sure that the soil is all moist. Tap down the soil so that it is solid. A turkey grit covering for long-term use inhibits moss formation and allows air to reach the top of each cutting without letting them dry out, as well as providing good drainage. Warmth at around 70o from the bottom (heating mat) and consistent moisture are important elements to rooting. Check after about 2 weeks.

Several questions followed—one about dividing tuberous begonias, which was a tricky division. You can’t grow a tuberous begonia from the eye of the tuber. They can be grown from divided tubers, but the tubers must be divided while the plant is actively growing. Unfortunately, many divided tubers suffer root rot and die when they are divided. It’s best not to try this at home…just wait for the spring bulb sales. Plant propagation, aka pirating, is a remarkably prolific way to essentially get free stuff that grows. Elaine’s successes at Stone Hollow Farm are a testament to the fun of creating new life. The percentage of plants successfully pirated in any one batch of attempts is almost irrelevant in light of the fun of trying. Getting rooted is a good thing.

Monica Van der Vieren: Gardening for Wildlife in a (Mostly) Native Landscape

After a career in the biotechnology sector for King Co. related to public involvement on capital sewer projects like Brightwater and a Marymoor Park project, Monica switched gears and has combined her technical background, experience working with the public and wildlife passion to teach interpretive approaches to engage diverse audiences. She is a Certified Interpretive Trainer and speaks and volunteers at workshops for many regional organizations.

Monica shared that she was restoring wildlife habitat on her 100-year old, 9-acre farm in the upper Snohomish River Estuary from which many of the photos and anecdotal information were presented. She will donated the evening’s speaker’s fee as an honorarium to a favorite wildlife organization. She doesn’t consider herself a gardener, but more of a wildlife native plant steward. Monica’s slideshow began with the title “Inspiration” and simply put…If you plant it, they will come.

One take-away for the evening was a picture of what she called “the Ikea landscape”, which most developers leave behind on a new home site. It consists of the “shiny” greens—laurel hedge, lawn and a camellia bush. Environmental guilt sets in after realizing that this is mostly sterile for attracting wildlife. Your site has to be about you and a place that you love. So, homeowners can improve the Ikea site through the addition/propagation of plants that offer “Color, Fragrance, Food, or plants with Personal or Sentimental value”.

Native pollinators are starting to decline and providing plants for their benefit is helpful. Seattle is providing these on local streets. Oregon Grape, Nootka Rose and Pacific Crabapple are great fragrance sources. Monica’s role as a former scientist has provided her with a way for payback as a land steward. Her site is a Pacific fly-way and hosts 150 trumpeter swans, swallows (that leave on Labor Day), Stellar Jays, Owls (a side note that they do not make their own nests), woodpeckers. She also provides feeders in the winter for Anna Hummingbirds that stay. She recommended noted wildlife photographer Paul Bannick’s beautiful book called “The Owl and the Woodpecker”.

Habitat: Providing habitat for wildlife is especially important—food, water, shelter, nesting places all play a role. Birds need perching trees with broad branches. Think about providing for all stages of a creature, i.e., butterflies have 4 stages that involve different criteria—leaves for caterpillar, different host plants for each species, water sources/shelter and even carnivore poop where they pick up protein. Puddling is also a source of minerals. Monica mentioned Whidbey Is.
wildlife biologist, Russell Link, as a resource for native plants. His books, “Landscaping for Wildlife in the NW” and “Living with Wildlife” lists 10 indispensables as: Dead trees, Vine Maples, Cascara or Buckthorn, Evergreen Huckleberry, Goat’s Beard, Sword Fern, Nodding Onion and Sweet Alyssum.

Rethinking your landscape away from the Ikea look can be as simple as designing in layers and she compared this to designing a room in the house. Start at the bottom—ground covers for erosion control; next—herbs and shrubs for shelter, food and leaf litter; followed by large shrubs and trees for perches, nests, food and shelter. Design or create a wave effect to edge the habitat. Mix up textures—evergreens
and deciduous, open branching and dense, thorny foliage. Everything doesn’t have to be about natives, but choosing wildlife friendly non-natives that meet your goals are a great addition. Find plants that don’t require a lot of care, are drought tolerant or don’t require constant pesticides/fertilizers.

Shady woodland gardens are ideal with many natives that work well. The native orange-flowered honeysuckle, bunchberry dogwood, coltsfoot, false lily-of-the-valley are excellent ground level choices. For mid-height, choose shade-lovers like goat’s beard, red huckleberry, evergreen huckleberry, salal, salmonberries. For sunny spots use coastal strawberry, serviceberry, lobelia, spikemoss (non-native). Useful wildlife trees for the backyard include vine maples, rocky mountain maple, cascara, black hawthorne, Lombardy poplar, Pacific crabapple, big leaf maple (banned for Seattle planting and a guitar wood source). Effective shrubs that can be used as hedgerows include highbush cranberry or twinberry honeysuckle. Containers or perennial bed choices include camas lily, fawn lily and many native ferns. Native Oregon iris or flag is a great slope plant. Natives like violets, maidenhair ferns flourish in wetland areas. If you’re looking to install a rain garden, Monica recommends getting technical help.

In Monica’s “back 40” area, she uses red elderberry and incense cedar and some shore pines. Her recommendation is to plant for the longest season you can. Your hardscapes may include rockeries that provide shelter for smaller creatures—and also good hunting for owls/hawks. Do not get too tidy, leaving leaf litter behind is great for towhees and other ground feeders. Use pesticides thoughtfully. Flame retardants have even been found in the Arctic. Monica finished quickly as time ran out, but essentially her message emphasized we can do more in our own corner of the world to sustain all creatures great and small. And definitely improve that Ikea look.

Bill Thorness: Year-Round Edibles, Plan Now to Fit in Fall and Winter Veggies

Bill described himself as a 1980s transplant from the North Dakota farmlands, who has evolved into an all-season gardener just because “he can” here in the Northwest. As a teacher, speaker, writer and member of the Garden Writers Association, Society of Professional Journalists, Seattle Tilth and various other gardening and biking associations, it seems a wonder that Bill has any time to garden year round. Bill offered his book, “Cool Season Gardener” ($20) for sale during the intermission, as well as an online Craftsy Class discount coupon for “The Extended Harvest: Vegetables for Every Season”. Bill gave the credit for his book’s drawings to his wife and also circulated a hand-out on “Year Round Edibles: Start Growing in Summer and Serve Holiday Meals from Your Garden”.

With that said, Bill delved into the what, where, why and how of extending the veggie growing season. We all tend to think short-term in terms of veggie growing, but in truth, with a few strategies, we can conquer the seasons and enjoy produce year-round. The key is to plan ahead. First, take a look at the length of days it takes to maturity on seed packets and work backwards. Thomas Jefferson, probably one of our first “foodies”, was known to plant a thimble full of lettuce seeds each Monday April through October, so he would have fresh lettuce daily. An aside note here that back in T.J.’s day, they used to boil lettuce, so perhaps the production was a bit much. The website, www.DavesGarden.com is a good resource for when to expect your last spring frost or the first fall frost.—just simply punch in your zip code. Consider the fall factor of growth before planting. Generally, it’s one to two weeks of slower growth period. Planting lettuce on Sept. 1st will often yield crops until the end of November. You may need to cover and protect during that time period and they’ll harden themselves off. With the help of indoor (or greenhouse) seed-starting gadgets like heating mats, heating probe, grow lights and shelves, he likes to start his greens in January and get them outside when they’re ready to be transplanted, sometimes with covers.

Bill covered topics such as looking at the gardening calendar a little differently (seven mini-seasons), differentiate the cool-season crops from the warm-season crops, siting the cool season gardens, building the soil, trellising and interplanting companionable plants (e.g., onions and lettuce), succession planting and keeping a rotational bed and a record. Combine different varieties of the same veggie at different times of maturity. Peas in the fall or rainbow chard are great options. Lorene Edwards Forkner’s beds of “mobile plants” in moveable planters were shown as heat-seeking devices to capture the best warmth.

Season Extension: This literally is a simplified term for covering your plants and making them last year-round. One of the simplest ways to practice season extension is to warm the soil before spring plantings by using a plastic cover or blanketing with flowing row covers (garden fleece) after sowing. Many companies offer these spun bonded polyester type cloths at varied widths, weights, and costs. Cloches (some of which were shown)—whether glass, plastic milk jugs (hot caps), Wall O’ Water, triangle tunnels or covered bamboo hoops—offer great devices to warm the starts and soil.

Cold frames are also valuable setups and these can be commercially available from gardener supply houses (Lee Valley, etc.). A cold frame can be constructed with repurposed materials (a wine bottle bed and garden window frames were shown) which often use twin polycarbonate see-through products (available at Charley’s Greenhouse in Mt. Vernon). These are also effective in keeping pests away. White polycarbonate makes for even light distribution. Invest in two soil thermometers—one for the inside and one for the outside. And remember to vent these cold frames.

Raised beds are another form of keeping the soil warm and easier on the back for harvesting. These tend to dry out fast, however, and need consistent watering. The higher the raised bed, the higher the heat sink. Roots need to be a consideration on the depth of these beds. Tomatoes, which Bill reminded us are perennials, need 2-3 ft. of root room and veggies with tap roots need 4-12 inches. A variety of year-round veggie garden spots were shown on rooftops, such as Ballard’s Bastille Restaurant (installed and maintained by former speaker Colin McCrate) and an old-time technique of “hotbeds” using fresh manure piled up to get the microbial activity working so it generates heat. Today this method has been modernized with the use of the electrical heat mat.

Crop Choices: When shopping for cool season seeds, look for terms such as “short season”, “early” or “good for winter”. Bill likes to use Oakland’s Kitazawa Seed Co. for a “safe seed” online site for Asian greens. Start your greens choices early in the year. Many cool season varieties include beans, the brassicas, beets, carrots, celery, radishes, garlic and onions, lettuce and Asian greens, spinach, parsnips, peas, Jerusalem artichoke, Swiss chard and herbs including the flowers. Early summer succession planting is important for fall/winter harvest. Bill likes to think that season extension gardeners will grow to great lengths to get winter production. In summary, getting back to Thomas Jefferson’s “cut-and-come-again” gardening techniques, veggie seeds are extremely important for the best choices for cool-season crops. Although today this practice would be under scrutiny, Jefferson collected seeds from everywhere he traveled, experimenting extensively at his garden site and was never afraid of failure. We just need to be as fearless in our attempts to increase crop production and extend our growing season to year-round harvesting. A major take-away from Bill’s discussions is to plan-plan-plan for, as Lorene Edwards Forkner penned it, “filling the larder and the soul”.

Joan Helbacka: Growing and Using Culinary Herbs

Joan began her lecture with the admonition that most herbs thrive in our area and are definitely deer-resistant, but require some specific conditions and care. Some are evergreen, so it is possible to have fresh herbs available year round. There are a few that struggle here—basil, lemon verbena—as they’re native to a hotter Mediterranean climate, but will be included as well. Information on growing, propagating and using a variety of herbs for cooking purposes and as landscape plants will be explored.

Herbs are by definition, garden plants that provide food flavoring (teas, oils, vinegars, sorbets) and seasoning, as well as medicinal virtues—aromatherapy comes to mind—and natural dyes. They may be annuals, perennials, or biennials. The oils in the herbs that create the characteristic flavors are most intense when they are fresh. Dried herbs have lost some of their oils and thus some of their culinary value. Fresh is best. Herbs are the leafy parts of the plant and spices are everything else (flowers, berries, stems, etc.).

Herb Growth
Conditions: Good drainage and full sun with at least six sunlight hours during the growing season is critical. Also helpful is to plan a dedicated herbal area, so all are available in a central site that can boost their health and shorten trips from garden to kitchen needs. Short of designing a specific herbal raised bed, herbs work well as companion plants in the landscape for ridding pests from veggies and ornamentals. They can grow well in small spaces (both inside and outside), with other ornamentals, and grasses. Herbal advantages include that they are relatively easy to grow from seed, are inexpensive as starts, mostly free from pests and diseases, and aren’t very fussy as to their needs—water, soil, sun and fertilizer. For local herbal display gardens, Joan listed the UW Medicinal Garden (on the campus directly across from the greenhouse), Bastyr University with raised beds arranged by their usage, Bellevue Botanical Gardens raised systems, Kent’s Neely Homestead Heritage Garden (1880s) and Seattle Tilth.

Specific Herbs: Joan then launched into discussions and slides of specific herbs and their characteristics with plenty of questions forthcoming as each was tackled. Everyone’s favorite, lavender, is particularly useful in borders, edges and on top of dry walls. Maintenance requires trimming to shape every year in the spring, but not cutting into old wood. After flowering, trim back to the leaves and again in fall. Spanish and French lavenders are not as hardy here. Grow these less-than-hardy specimens in containers for winter protection. Eight ounces of lavender blossoms is adequate to give out as a sachet. Bradner Gardens (a past field trip) was described as a lavender hub, as well as Sequim.

Great ground covers include woolly thyme and pink dimity (fleece flower) is excellent draping over an edge. Another ground cover for dry shade, sweet woodruff, which can take off in the right conditions, has an interesting scent (newly mown hay) when dried out. It was used as a strewing herb to freshen linens and homes, as a tea, and added to Riesling wine to create May Wine.

Basil Envy: There are many tempting varieties of basil that we lust after, but they all need 65o F soil temps and plenty of warmth in order to prosper. In the interim, they can be kept indoors on top of the refrigerator for a trip outside in July/August. Basil is an example of a good companion plant for tomatoes that repels flying insects and besides, you’ll remember to pinch back, harvest and water it. Basil will rot very easily with too much water and cold weather.

Sweet bay leaf tree (Laurus nobilis), the only bay tree used for culinary purposes, can suffer from a bay laurel pest, but these can be contained by hose sprays. This tree will grow well in a container, as a topiary or inside as a bushy shrub. Bay is used in bouquet garni along with parsley and thyme. The berries can be used in laurel oil and laurel butter (used in veterinary medicine).

Quick growers that tend to bolt include arugula, cilantro or dill and these can be resown periodically for successive harvests. Dill likes full sun and moist soil. Parsley, a biennial, can also be a root crop. Sage berggarten (culinary sage) with its large gray leaves can end up being kind of ratty looking and when that happens simply replace. This is great chopped up and used on potatoes. Territorial Seeds has a great shrubby culinary sage called “Grower’s Friend”.
Another favorite, rosemary—a companion plant, has multiple varieties and culinary uses. Rosemary, which can reach 6 ft. tall, needs some added protection here as it can suffer from frost scorch or dieback. Cut the damaged parts back to healthy wood, but as this is a rather short-lived bush, it is best to replace bushes every 5 to 6 years. Prostrate rosemary is not very hardy here, unless protected. If given good drainage and in a sheltered sunny location, this is a versatile plant with the blossoms, stems and leaves all used year round.

Many thyme species exist worldwide, making them a collectible item. Joan especially liked lemon thyme which combines well with fish or chicken dishes. A winter savory question revealed that it has a stronger flavor than summer savory, and is sometimes hard to find as a dried herb. Fresh or dried leaves are used to flavor vinegars, herb butters, bean dishes, creamy soups, and tea. Winter savory can be grown in containers. Although it can grow in our zone, too much moisture in the soil can cause winterkill. Winter protection might be necessary.

Marjoram and oregano are best grown in containers. Joan likes the Mexican oregano vs. the European oregano for cooking. She gets her seeds from Penzeys out of Wisconsin—a great online resource for herbs. Sweet Cicely does not grow happily in a container with its long tap root. The leaf flavor is sweet aniseed and the root can be cooked as a vegetable. And the sometimes invasive lemon balm, smells so delicious but tastes like boiled cabbage water when cooked. It is best to use fresh in liquid refreshments, as a bee attractant and for insect bites. The leaves can also be candied. Deciduous perennial Lemon verbena trivia includes it as Scarlett O’Hara’s mother’s favorite sachet, as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s. This is considered the Rolls Royce of lemon-scented plants, however, although listed as hardy to zone 9, it can sometimes be tender here. Abundant uses exist for this herb from teas, jellies, vinegars, drinks, desserts, candies, ice cream, perfumes, etc.

The Catmint (Nepeta cataria) or Catnip slide evoked a round of sighs, as many recalled decimated plants from their cats. Site this companion plant carefully and away from cat marauders, so that the aromatic leaves can be used in salads or as a minty flavoring. These look great in terra cotta pots and may rot in wet winters. Another companion herb, Chives and Garlic Chives are a welcome spring emergent herb. They may be cut to within 1 inch of the ground 4 times a year to maintain a steady supply. However, they do not dry well, but can be frozen in ice cubes. Many herbs can be preserved in this fashion or tied in a bundle and dried for use when needed. Joan described a dish with mozzarella cheese and yellow tomatoes with a drizzling of chive flower oil. Garlic, a very familiar herb, cannot be frozen. It can be cooked first and caramelized, then frozen for later use in dishes. Harvesting garlic occurs in mid- to late-summer when the leaves die down and lose their greenness. These bulbs can be used soon (wet garlic) or dried.

Containers: Herbs that tend to spread or are too tender to survive our winters are best potted up in containers or confined to raised beds. Contain your mint and sorrel. Attractive plants like lemon verbena or Spanish lavender work well in pots. Terra cotta pots or clay chimney tops are recommended for containing warmth and work well placed near the kitchen door for culinary purposes. Joan recommended the “strawberry” jars as a place to showcase herbs, such as various types of basils in the pockets. Cut off the bottoms of tender plants in plastic pots and insert in the ground for easy removal in winter. Potted herbs enhance the landscape and offer opportunities to grow invasive herbs as well.

Pests/Diseases: Herbs suffer from few pests and diseases, and in fact many of them can be used in the veggie garden to protect other crops. Biological controls and organic sprays for edible plants are preferable for pests. Some herbal pests include aphids, some caterpillars, leaf miners, spit bugs (on lavender and rosemary), scale, whitefly and the shameless slug. Joan provided a great slug defeater—place a board near plants to be protected and uncover daily for slug harvest. Caffeine acts as a novel toxicant, so coffee can be effective for some pests. Bay laurel pests can be removed with the hose. Diseases that are specific to certain herbs include mint rust and powdery mildew. After a range of questions, Joan reiterated that herbs in addition to their culinary applications, also add landscape color, contrast, fragrance, healing, companion pest control and are easy to grow. Whether planting herbal annuals, perennials, biennials in pots, windowsills, or a formal herbal garden plan, the rewards are endless…and did we mention deer-free? Bring on the rosemary lemon cake and chamomile tea.

Pat Roome: Bulbs for Easy-Care Summer Color

Pat Room was introduced as an experienced gardener in Clyde Hill with an English flare. She’s a long-time speaker at the NW Flower & Garden Show, the Arboretum Units, and many garden clubs, as well as a founding member of the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society and a Master Gardener for over 40 years. In addition, Pat operates a Bellevue landscaping business (Pat Roome Landscape Design, Inc.) and brought along several of the summer bulbs she discussed that RGC purchased for our plant sale.

Pat began her lecture by passing around two supplemental handouts entitled, “Summer Flowering Bulbs” and “Summer Annuals to Plant with Spring and Early Summer Bulbs”. The first was a handy sheet that named the bulbs to follow along with on Pat’s slide show. The second sheet listed companion plants to these bulbs as Annuals to Grow From Seed (Clarkia, Lobularia, Nigella, Salpiglossis, Aster callistephus dwarfs, Phlox drummondii, Reseda (Mignonette), Schisanthus, Violas (Johnny jumpups) and Annual Pack Bedding Plants (Aegeratum, Coleus, Verbena and pansies). Summer flowering bulbs are available right now for planting, but we should hasten to pick them up at nurseries as the good ones go fast.

Pat then went over definitions. The term “bulb” is used to describe plants that have a thickened root, they can be true bulbs such as Narcissus, tuberous such as Dahlia, corms like Crocus, rhizomes as in Iris or a tuber found in Begonia. Bulbs do not originate in every area of the world, however. The U.S. provides a few including the West Coast’s Camassia and Iris douglasiana. South Africa is the source of many bulbs including Pat’s easy grower favorites Tulbaghia (society garlic or pink agapunthus) which blooms from June to September and Schizostylis (Kaffir lily) which blooms from July to December. She described the society garlic as blooming all summer, but not especially hardy here. Kaffir lilies have lovely pink, peaches and white colors. Many other bulbs come from Eurasia or Turkey.

Alliums are widely spread throughout the northern hemisphere. Dahlia and Tigridia (tiger flower) come from Mexico. Lilies are among the hardiest summer bulbs and are easy to grow. They need well drained soil in a sunny location. Different species will be in bloom throughout the summer, the first to bloom are the Asiatic hybrids followed by the Aurelian and Oriental hybrids from mid-summer to fall. Lilies need only to be dug and divided when the clumps become too crowded and are not blooming enough. The alliums are very rewarding to grow and like good drainage and plenty of sun. Less hardy bulbs shown such as Anemone coronaria, Agapanthus and Galtonia candicans will survive most NW winters if planted in well-drained soil with protection. Wet soils cause root rot, cold temperatures are less of a problem.

Some bulbs are not hardy and are best lifted in the fall and stored frost free until the following spring. Dahlias, for example, which are dug when the foliage turns yellow are commonly treated this way. However, Pat mentioned that she digs them up only when they need dividing (an indicator is that there are less flowers) and she generally just covers them up for winter. If you’re inclined to dig them up every year, begin by washing the soil off the tubers and allow drying. Leave the cluster of tubers whole until planting them singly in April. Store each cluster separately in a brown paper bag.

Another way to grow many bulbs including tuberous Begonia, Nerine bowdenii and Tigridia is the unglazed clay pot method, which we thought was a hot tip. Start the bulb in April in potting soil in a pot at least 6” deep. The top of the bulbs should be showing on the soil surface. (If you are starting begonias and are not sure which way is up, set the tuber in a saucer of water for a few days and little pink buds will appear on the top surface). Plant Nerine bowdenii, with half the bulb showing above the soil. Keep the pots in a light, frost-free place such as close to the house. When all risk of frost is passed, bury the pot to its rim in the ground or in a large planter. Water as necessary during the summer, but moisture should be able to move into the pot from the surrounding soil (thus the unglazed clay pot work best). Remove the pots before frost in the Fall. Store frost free until the following April, when you will repot in fresh soil and start the process again. Clay pot cultures include: Agapanthus, Canna, Ranunculus, Tritonia, Sparaxis, and Nerine bowdenii.

Some hardy bulbs for the NW included: Colchicum, Corydalis, Cyclamen hederafolium and Iris; whereas the less hardy included: Acidenthera, Canna, Dierama (angel’s fishing rod), Gladiolus, Sparaxis and Zantedeschia. A question about the hybrid Costco gladiolas revealed that these are not hardy and should be treated as annuals. You’re better off ordering hardier species corms from mail order supply houses.

Bulb Selection and Uses: Most bulbs generally thrive on rich, well-drained sites, but for some wet clay sites there are other bulbs like Iris that do best in these conditions. Pat told us her Bellevue garden tested out at 90% sand and after years of amending the soil, it now peaks at 70% sand, which was quite disheartening. When picking out a package of summer-flowering bulbs search for the heaviest package and look at the bulbs to see whether they’re viable, especially no brown spots or broken bulbs. Fertilizers should be low in nitrogen and higher in potash phosphorus to encourage flowering.

The trick is to be bold with bulbs. Seldom are these ladies of summer used in large drifts like the spring-flowering bulbs. The majority of these bulbs are best treated like ordinary plants in herbaceous or mixed borders, or perhaps used to add foreground interest and color in a shrub border. Some are at home in a rock garden, while others make great container plants. Lilies are the hard-working multi-taskers that can be used in any situation. All provide some outstanding summer cut flowers for arrangements. Border beauties go on to multiply rapidly (Crocosmias come to mind) and create large clumps of glowing flowers that can become focal points that simply shout their presence. And then there are the take-your-breath-away tropicals that stun at the back of borders. Pat cautioned that she prefers the dwarf cannas and dahlias that do not require staking or fall over…they’re less work.

Pat definitely whetted our appetites for summer flowering bulbs. Whether tender or hardy, the challenge is worth the effort for adding highlights to our borders, as well as cut flowers and season-extending beauty. The time is now to seek out those packages of pent-up bulbs waiting to be released, but unlike their spring and autumn bulb buddies, these ladies of summer are often more temperamental and demand a more in-depth knowledge of their requirements. Thanks to Pat, we’re now well armed for our “summertime and the livin’ is easy” bulb displays.

Janit Calvo: Miniature Gardening-Where Craft and Garden Meet

Janit Calvo, speaker/ author/ business owner, was introduced to speak on the topic of Miniature Gardening. A Canadian transplant with a family tradition of treasure collecting, art and business owners, Janit explored career possibilities through art college, travel and various endeavors. Her subsequent passion for miniature gardening, however, evolved along a winding path, similar to those displayed in her tabletop gardens, but always with a focus on creative artistry. Supplemented with a variety of jobs that provided fodder for her business ideas (Swanson’s Nursery, gardening, minor construction work, staging houses for sale, graphics design, logo and  brand creation, sailboat custom upholstery), Janit had her “aha” moment where a business owner mentality emerged.

Two Green Thumbs took root in 2001 with partner/husband Steve after “toying” with a variety of business ideas at various shows and markets where their ideas were sold—from hand-painted furniture smalls, vintage finds, customized pottery, plant stands, eclectic container plantings, 1/6th scale miniature greeting card line, and stepping stones. But it soon became apparent that miniature gardening was the noodle that stuck on the wall. Her market niche was born from significant customer attention to the mini-gardens and noticing that there weren’t that many resources available (aside from the dollhouse industry), that focused on this unusual gardening aspect. A business model was born and the rest is history. Janit’s 2013 book, “Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World” is a well-written, beautifully photographed, how-to primer for sharing her mini-garden passion (also a featured February “What We’re Reading” book selection for Sno-Isle Library).

Research discovered that small gardening had been around for a while with teacups, windowsill gardens, terrariums, as well as hypertufa troughs. England’s Anne Ashberry’s 1951 book on the topic was the definitive classic in this genre, and she was commissioned to design a garden for Princess Margaret. Then, mini-gardens seemed to drop off the map in popularity. Now, the re-emergence of fairy houses and miniature gardening have taken the nurseries by storm as plant breeding is seeing a surge in dwarf and miniature specimens to keep up with this trend. As a group of plant hunters here at RGC, we were anxious to learn about the cute plants displayed on her demo table, many of which were passed around. So, Janit started her discussions with the plants and followed up with an assembly demo, complete with accessories.

Conifers/Shrubs: Janit originally opened up her mini world with dwarf conifer love-at-first-sight. With all landscapes, it’s best to start with the bones or anchor points. She went on to explain that miniature and dwarf labels have different meanings—simply that they grow at different rates (miniature = 1” or less per year and dwarf = 1” to 6” per year). You really want the rate of growth to slow down as the charm develops every year (and some of her gardens have been around for nearly 10 years). Many of the colorful, little conifers that looked almost like tiny bonsai were highlighted, that she brought (mostly from Oregon’s Iseli Nursery), which were also for sale. Varieties like Cryptomeria were good choices for clipping lower branches at the bottom to allow the tree to “grow up” in order to display the great wood trunks, as large anchors in the mini-landscape. Other conifers shown were many types of Abies koreana, Chamaecyparis, Cupressis macrocarpa, Mugho pines, junipers, hemlocks, Norway spruce (they will get small cones), Hinoki cypress and butterball Hinoki. Many shrubs have been downsized as well, including boxwoods, ilex, Euonymus, cotoneasters, Pieris japonicas, etc. When transplanting these trees or shrubs into the ground or your containers, it’s a good idea to unbury the crown because they are generally buried too deep in their nursery pots.

Perennial Bedding Plants: Janit’s advice on perennials is to stick to common (mini version) perennials like Bellium minutum, which provides a sea of tiny daisies. Succulents like hens & chicks are good for mini-pots. Baby’s tears, heron’s bill (Erodium), mondo grasses, brass buttons, Ajugas (chocolate chip) all make colorful additions. A tip on Ajuga is to cut off the runners when they appear.

Ground Covers: As in the large landscapes, trees and shrubs are the bones, everything else that makes up the understory will change (garden change is constant). Sweet little ground covers can include rockery plants, mini-succulents, or small-leaved creepers. Elfin thyme is a favorite low-maintenance ground cover. A word of caution about herbs in those 4” pots, they’re not miniatures– just young plants that will not work. Janit passed around Platt’s Black brass buttons as a colorful addition as well.

Some Assembly Required: It’s all about the illusion in miniature gardening—keeping equal parts art, craft and maintenance—in perspective. Start off by picking your spot and/or purpose, either indoors or outdoors, for a gift or for yourself. One suggestion on ways to use miniature gardens on a very small scale is to assemble small pots as wedding gift favors, hostess or teacher gifts, etc. Janit touched briefly on important elements of mini-scale gardening, whether in containers or in the outdoor landscape. These included: anchor points, layers, balance, form, texture, color and focal points all in proportionate scale. Key elements of your landscape will often include patios or paths, water features, dry river beds, trees, ground covers, and the accessories. In the outdoors, you need to step it down significantly. Remembering the plant rule of thumb: “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap”, Janit reminded us there’s a need to keep careful watch on the growth rates to keep all in symmetry. When the scale is off, the overall look and feel is a miss, since everything is viewed in one sweep of the eye. Think of this creation just like a full-scale garden, i.e., tall stuff in the back and layering on down, with a fork as your only landscape tool for quick cleanup.

For the demo on miniature garden assembly, Janit reverse-engineered the process, by taking apart one of her containers. She removed the dwarf Hinoki cypress (which will grow to about 3”), as well as the garden patio side, which in this case were small stones glued onto a mesh sheet, so the whole patio can be easily laid at once or cut to size. This sheet provides the rock patio look without all the hard assembly work of laying stone from scratch and is available to buy in a variety of colors and textures. The stone patio was bordered by a bend-board type of brown plastic secured with skewers to retain the shape of garden against the patio. Your pot should have a hole at the bottom with a screen mesh over it to keep soil intact and then should be filled with a potting soil until it is almost full, so ground level is about a ½ inch below the rim. A mini patio mix kit will maximize the patio building side. Choose the best side of the container as the front, then place trees in the back corner or rear and layers according to your design. Perennials/ground covers follow and all should be at ground level.

Patios & Pathways: Push the whole arrangement back to allow for your patio side and border with the plastic board if desired. If you can’t decide between a patio or a rock path…now would be the time to include possibly both. The patio side should be about an inch below the garden level with ¾” filled with a layer of sand as a buffer before the “mini-patio mix kit”. Your stone/terra cotta/brick sheets or tiles, glass etc. can be laid after tampering down to get rid of air pockets. For small rocks use a screen mesh before arranging the rocks. Then to finish off the look of a garden venue, a small man-made object is needed. That’s when the fun accessorizing comes in.

Accessories: Once these scene-stealers are added the site shrinks down to scale in a fanciful manner and your personality emerges as your story is told. Janit showed a miniature donkey as a demonstration of what doesn’t belong and is out of scale. Accessory size cinches the scale of your landscape and is usually 10 inches and under. Quality items can be found in nurseries, online stores, dollhouse sites, or your own personal treasures. All sorts of materials are used, but if used outdoors remember that colors can fade and some fragile pieces may not withstand winters. Structures like potting sheds, fairy houses, furniture, statuary, animals, etc. all add to the magical setting. Janit’s accessories on her website Two Green Thumbs come with stakes attached so that they’re easily inserted and stay where they’re needed. Edging and skewers are also helpful devices. Hot gluing the furniture doesn’t work because the glue doesn’t do well when it gets wet from watering. Better to use outside adhesives instead. Small trellises, arbors, twig fences and other to-scale garden features can be inserted. Your miniature garden can also be accessorized seasonally for various holidays. Have fun with it and get creative.

Water Features: Janit also mentioned that if you don’t have a water feature in your full-scale landscape, now’s the time to get one in a miniature garden, if only a small birdbath. Keep ponds or lakes to scale with a good rule of thumb to make it one-third the size of the container and plantings at two-thirds the size. Tumbled blue glass can also represent a lake, if you don’t want to mess with water. Dry river beds take a bit of creative forethought, but are made to look realistic with miniature boulders, various sized rocks, pebbles, logs and even a bridge.

Pots/Soil & Care: Your pot depth should be 6” or more for the trees, but can be shallower if your landscape is alpine or primarily succulents. Potting soil with vermiculite or perlite is preferable in order to lighten up the mixtures. Janit graciously answered member questions regarding miniature gardening and closed with the thought that “working with miniatures encourages us to play, be creative and push our imaginations into new ideas. Miniature gardening resonates with adults because it gives us permission to play and daydream like we did when we were kids – and studies have shown that there is power and peace in letting our minds wander” into that “it’s a small world after all” venue. A Two Green Thumbs sales frenzy followed with books, plants and accessories that were bound for our own little “small world” creations.

Riz Reyes: Winter Jewels-The Gems of the Winter Landscape

Riz Reyes began his discussion with a slide show presentation of not just the Winter Jewels Hellebore collection (shown here), for which we look forward to in late winter, but also various other colorful standouts in the winter landscape to perk up our “bones”. In the midst of the “selfie” craze, Riz lined up a camera shot with all his new RGC member friends—a fun and endearing memory. Winter is a dark time of year to work in the garden, but if you take the time to look at the subtle colors, textures and shapes in the NW landscape, you’ll be surprisingly rewarded. Riz reminded us that we’re lucky to have the chance to garden in winter—as opposed to the rest of the country, that is often blanketed in snow and cold. With that in mind, he told us to embrace the “wonder of winter” with all of the landscape bones that are visible now. If we think of the garden as having geometric shapes—circles, pyramids, strong lines—then those bones become better defined. Taking a black & white picture of your winter landscape helps define those shapes for future additions or removals. Some basic landscape bones include trees and shrubs, and at this time of year they’re naked allowing a showy peek at the spectacular bark colors and twisty stem shapes. Bones can also be hardscapes, like boulders, trellises, large pots, artwork, etc.

Bowl of HelleboresBowl of Hellebores

Trees and Shrubs: Riz proved his “bones” point with some spectacular shots of trees and shrubs, some familiar and others not so much. Some of those shown included manzanitas (natives), known for their reddish smooth peeling bark and their unique twisted shapes and also Chinese witch hazels “Arnold’s Promise” & “Diane”, which have multi-season interest. Floral displays of winter-blooming Camellia sasanquas are a refreshing burst of color ranging from whites to reds (a good resource for unique camellias: camforest.com). The Garrya elliptica (aka Silk Tassel) variety “Pat Ballard” had glorious catkins that cascaded downward. Other photos included the more reliable variety of Daphne odora “Zuiko Nishiki” in a more upright form. One lesser seen shrub, but that can be viewed at the Arboretum, is the Chimonanthus praecox or Winter Sweet. He cautioned that this can be a bit gangly in shape, but it’s a slow grower so pruning would be a way to keep it in good form. Riz passed around just one branch from this fragrant bush that clinched the deal for many in the audience. And the familiar (also fragrant) Mahonia “Arthur Menzies” (Great Plant Pick) was shown with its spectacular yellowish flowers followed by berries. This is another prune-worthy specimen. Nothing beats the scent of Edgeworthia chrysantha or Oriental Paper Bush (needs protection here), especially near a front entrance. Interesting red-brown mahogany bark is the key to the Prunus serrulata or Japanese flowering cherry tree’s beauty in winter.

Herbaceous Perennials: Before entering the Lenten Rose parade (saving the best for last), Riz revealed some wondrous specimens to also consider for winter displays. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em, but the sometimes overused Bergenia displays in the Seattle area (mostly rockeries) are better when kept groomed with all dead black leaves removed. Their lovely cabbage-like leaves turn crimson shades—especially Bressingham Ruby—and the spiky flowers are an early indicator of spring. Another fabulous shade garden plant (a Great Plant pick introduced from China) is Beesia deltophylla with its evergreen heart-shaped, shiny leaves above purple stems. This one only gets from about 10 in. to a foot in height, so in front of the shade border is a perfect spot. Heucheras were also mentioned as emerging in late winter. These tend to heave up out of the ground, but can be pruned and easily propagated for many more additions. A question about heuchera and rust problems was answered. Typically, the leaves become covered with small brown spots, sunken depressions or raised bumps on the upper leaf surface. New leaves may become puckered and distorted. The fungal disease is spread by airborne spores, and attacks are worst during wet summers. Fungicide is helpful. Check out your plants’ leaves before buying them and allow for a quarantine period before planting. Yuccas, specifically “Color Guard” are vibrant spiky additions in the winter. The gold colors seem to get brighter as winter progresses. Wintergreen, a small, low-growing, woody plant, comes to life in winter with its small scarlet red berries contrasting with the dark green foliage. Various Euphorbias that emerge in ranges of colors were displayed and one form E. rigida was spilling out of a spectacular Jim King concrete rusty broken egg type container. Hint: This pot used to be found at Dragonfly Farms Nursery. And a final touch…grasses. The texture and color of various grasses presented, whether upright or mounding, also provide some “fluff” and “sway” factor in our blustery winter. Mondo grass is the grass world’s basic “little black dress”, in that it can be coordinated to the hilt with cool accessory plants.

Bulbs and Other Underground Structures: The first harbinger of late winter/early spring is the Galanthus or Snowdrop bulbs, which with their nodding heads appear to say “let’s wake up slowly”. These look best planted in drifts because they appear and disappear quickly. Riz claimed not to be a “galanthophile”, like many who are addicted to collecting these little ones and who are willing to pay big bucks for the latest and greatest (as much as $1,100 per bulb), but his favourite would have to be “flore pleno”. By their nature, they must be appreciated when they happen: You snooze, you lose. Another flowering standout is the Cyclamen, which are good in dry spots and are stunning coupled with mondo grass. The C. coum, C. hederifolium and C. purpurascens varieties are hardy outside for repeat performances, whereas the florist cyclamen are not hardy and considered houseplants here.

Hellebores: And now onto the crown jewels for the night…hellebores. There’s nothing like the thrill of lifting that first hellebores flower in February to marvel at its hues and speckles, character and fortitude to again give way to its charms, as if for the first time. And indeed, it sometimes is the first flower to emerge from winter hibernation. “They epitomize the whole package—fantastic foliage, precocious bloom, and beautiful flowers.” (Burrell, C. Colston and Tyler, Judith Knott, 17). In the landscape Val Easton remarks that “the biggest mistake is dotting them about the garden. They have little impact unless planted in swathes or masses”. With all of their attributes, however, few hellebores are fragrant, so be sure to pair them with some winter fragrant plants. In a naturalistic, woodland setting, there’s nothing to beat their longevity in late winter bloom time. They are a long-lived, drought-tolerant plant and don’t like to be moved. Successfully growing hellebores in containers can be achieved by letting them dry out between waterings. Their roots will rot if they are kept too moist.

Riz gave us a brief botany 101 lesson on the makeup and life cycle of the hellebores species. These Lenten Roses with their open, cup-shaped flowers are herbaceous perennials, members of the Ranunculaceae or buttercup families. The flowers, which push through first before the leaves, lack the well-known petals, instead 5 petal-like sepals create the show. Inside the five showy sepals hides a ring of up to 32 petals, modified into tubular nectaries, which are not in the center of the flower. The center of the flower sports two to ten pistils surrounded by multiple rings of up to 125 stamens. The ovaries, or carpels, of the flower are an essential characteristic for distinguishing certain species. After pollination, the sepals fade to rose or green and often persist in an attractive state until the seed is ripe and releases all of those little baby seeds. The mother plant grows from thickened, slow-creeping rhizomes and does not rebloom after the seeds have dropped. Hellebores are one of the easiest plants to produce from seed, with other propagation methods of division or tissue culture. Open pollination of seeds in the garden may not be true to the flower color, especially if there are different hellebores nearby. Thus, if you spy a special colored plant that you love, you’d better buy it to ensure that particular flower returns.

After our hellebore overview, Riz talked about and displayed the Winter Jewels Collection bred by Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne of Oregon’s Northwest Garden Nursery, considered to be the finest breeder program in the world. Many hybrids were shown including Winter Jewels’s (Singles and doubles) Jade Star, Jade Tiger, Harlequin Gem, Amber Gem, Onyx Odyssey and the Gold Collection’s Ice Breaker pico, Merlin, Monte Christo, and ad infinitum. Endless are the companion combinations with these beauties. You can see why everyone is seduced by hellebores at this time of year, as you lift their little heads to see their faces. This was definitely a Hellebore Happy crowd. Riz reiterated how our region is the envy of the nation, when it comes to what and for how long we’re able to garden successfully. So, in closing, he reminded us to take it all in and enjoy the wonder of winter here. Riz remained true to form from other lectures by giving away some featured plants including a profusely blooming Cinnamon Hellebore, a hardy Cyclamen, and the sprig of fragrant Wintersweet.

Riz graciously stayed for a Q&A session with many members wanting to pick his hort brain. Samples of questions included several regarding hellebore: Upward-facing blossoms? Yes, breeders are working on that aspect and they should be available soon. Leaves that lay on the ground? Clip and remove all of last season’s bad leaves now, when you see the shoots of flowers coming up. As they put out new leaves both in the fall and ealy spring, flowers tend to show best with all the old foliage cut away. Once the flowers show, it’s more difficult to cut leaves without damaging them. Divisions? They can be divided late summer, but replanted as soon as possible. Seedlings replanted away from mother plant? Yes, but be sure to get as much of the tap root as possible for success. In fact, if these small plants are not moved, the skirts of expanding foliage can smother them before midsummer. If you’ve spent a fortune for a spectacular clonal form or well-selected seed strain, the crops of seedlings can over time crowd out your expensive purchase. Share them with the plant sale customers. Stinking Hellebore lifespan? Hellebores foetidus or stinking hellebore is somewhat of a misnomer since the flowers are showy and fragrant. It is only if you crush the leaves that an unpleasant odor arises. Riz’s favorite is “Snow Fever” with its deep green foliage flecked with pink and white, which later fades to green. The buds start out pinkish and then open to green outward-facing flowers. These are generally short-lived here, not suitable for divisions, but are prolific seeders. A witch-hazel question regarding two different colored flowers (yellow and red) on the same bush from different sprouts. Riz looked at this double-flowered hazel as a plus. However, if you really want the more dominant bush to remain, it would be easy to prune out the other sprout(s) down to the base and remain vigilant about pruning out new sprouts. We thanked Riz for his presentation and felt so fortunate that Riz transplanted himself successfully into our RGC gardening world. And now we’re especially looking forward to his NW Flower & Garden Show talk on “Romantic Seasonal Floral Arrangements for Any Occasion” (Sat, Feb 14 at 10:00 am / DIY Stage).
Burrell, C. Colston and Judith Knott Tyler. “Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide”. 2006: pg. 17.

Elsa Durham: Bonsai

(edited from Kay L.)

Elsa Durham from the Puget Sound Bonsai Society (www.psba.us) acquainted us better with the art of Bonsai. First of all, she made sure that we pronounced it correctly as “bone sai” not “bonzai” of WWII kamikaze pilot fame. Talking about the origin of the art, she alluded to no definite time except it started, in all probability, in China in the BC’s. One theory is Bonsai started as a means for transporting herbs more easily when the Emperors went to their cooler mountain palaces in the summer (a search of the internet will show that numerous other theories exist).

The name in Japanese means “little tree in pot”. In the Tong Dynasty around 300-900AD, Japanese students were sent to China to learn the culture and they brought back the art of Bonsai. There are  Chinese and Japanese forms of Bonsai; Elsa talked about the Japanese form. During her talk, Elsa illustrated the various trees and types of Bonsai.

Right now, Bonsai is very popular around the world, especially in Europe. Bonsai are often used in the Japanese style tokonoma, where three objects are placed in a niche or alcove to express one idea. One object is a Bonsai tree, another is a figure, rock or other object, and the third object is a painted screen.

The most important aspect of Bonsai in the Pacific Northwest is starting with the appropriate tree for the location. The sunlight and temperature requirements of the full sized tree or bush will also apply to the Bonsai. Elsa commented that most people fail at Bonsai because they are trying to grow the wrong kind of tree in the wrong place. Most of Bonsai trees need to be outdoors in pots or in the ground. If you want to grow Bonsai indoors you will need a tropical  tree. Outdoor Bonsai should be protected if temperatures go below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Workshops are recommended to get experience to growing Bonsai or you can hire a professional to maintain your Bonsai for you. Species selection is important. Deciduous trees grow faster and need re-potting more often than evergreens. The age of the tree is not important; it’s how ancient the tree LOOKS. There are a number of techniques that are used to give Bonsai an aged look.

There are five styles of Bonsai; the easiest to achieve is the informal style.

• Formal upright-showing no movement
• Informal upright-showing movement
• Slant-emphasis on one side with apex (top) of tree away from the root
• Semi-cascade-main part of tree slopes downward
• Full cascade-tree cascades all the way down to near the floor

Nebari is the surface roots flaring from the base of the tree. Nebari help the Bonsai look like a full sized tree and adds to the aged look. Roots can be grown over rocks for a dramatic effect. Maple grows the best nebari. When you select a tree, look for good nebari and trunk. Wire is used to help form the tree limbs where you want them to go. The wire is removed just before it cuts into the tree. Specialized tools are needed for all phases of creating Bonsai and Elsa illustrated some of them. Lime sulfur solution is used to grey the trunk making the tree look older, but it must look natural.

Non-organic soil should be used here in the Northwest because it is so wet, wet roots should be avoided at all costs. Avadima is often used because it is not too dry or wet when watered. Mimic the natural climate for the tree species and use fertilizers of your choice. Older trees need re-potting less often, but deciduous trees need to be re-potted more often. The roots need to be trimmed and tap roots cut to develop the feeder roots which are parallel to the ground. Re-potting should be done before buds bloom–either in late winter or early spring, then use no fertilizer for 6-8 weeks to encourage root growth.

Some local sources for Bonsai are Bonsai NW near Southcenter and Lands End Gardens. To collect trees for Bonsai development, you must have a permit for public lands or permission of the owner for private lands.

Types of pots:

• Deciduous trees-shallow pots, glazed, narrower
• Evergreens-deeper pots, about 6 inches

Elsa pointed out that the art of Bonsai takes time, up to 10 years before you see the full effect of your work.

Laura Matter: Growing healthy soils

Laura Matter from Seattle Tilth, spoke about “Growing Healthy Soils”. Laura’s horticulturalist background before her stint as Seattle Tilth’s Garden Hotline Coordinator, includes a Botany degree and landscape design business owner for 14 years. During 10 years with Seattle City Light, she worked to replace and reduce pesticides and under her guidance, a large electrical station was registered as a Washington Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary after being enhanced with natives, birdhouses and using natural alternatives to pesticides—a most noteworthy achievement. Laura offered a table full of brochures (“The Natural Lawn & Garden—Growing Healthy Soil” and “Natural Yard Care”), tips (“Soil Resources for Edible Gardening”), additional educational resources, and her topic’s overview.

Laura offered a definition of the word, Tilth, as she is often asked that question. Tilth is an Old English word that comes from the same root as the verb “to till.” In the dictionary it is defined as “the structure and quality of cultivated soil.” In an older meaning the word “tilth” was used to describe the cultivation of wisdom and the spirit. A soil—or a person—in good tilth was said to be “in good heart.” Seattle Tilth’s motto of “Learn, Grow, Eat” was clearly evident from Laura’s presentation early on. She dug beneath the surface to provide a closeup look at soil, the most important component for healthy, happy plants. We got down and dirty along with Laura, as she discussed the value of good soil. Good soil is constantly changing and nurturing the plants, vegetables and flowers that grow in it. Healthy soil that supports life has bacteria (good bacteria), worms, animal manure, organic matter from dead plants and healthy natural chemicals such as nitrogen and fine-grained sand. Several good books were recommended for further study, especially Jeff Lowenfels’ “Teeming with Nutrients” and Teeming with Microbes”.

In addition, soil performs many essential tasks, such as anchors and provides air and minerals for plant roots, as a vehicle for plant water supplies, slows stormwater and prevents erosion, as well as trapping toxins so that they won’t enter waterways. Specifically, when we talk about soil improvements (with compost), there are many products and all hold value for different situations. Laura offered an explanation of what our soil is like in the Puget Sound region…affected by layers of glacial till, hardpan, outwash soils, lake/marine bed soils, volcanic ash and mudflows. The dreaded glacial till soil is a mixture of all sizes of particles from boulders to clay and can make it hard for roots (or pickaxes) to penetrate. It was only upwards from this clay-like level to lake beds that can become saturated and anaerobic, but still remain good farming soil, volcanic soils and mudflow which hold water but can be unstable and not very permeable onto alluvial soils—loamy deposits rich for farming land.

Sadly, much of this rich soil has been developed. When urban areas are developed that good topsoil is removed and compaction occurs. These surfaces cause changes in hydrology and thus, the Best Management Practices in Washington related to developments require that the topsoil be returned and reused. So, given that we all may have different soil situations to contend with on our lots, improving the quality of our soil is paramount for growing healthy plants. Soil testing that looks at the pH, nutritional content and fertility is important and King County Conservation District (www.kingcd.org) has a free soil testing program for those who reside within the eligibility area.

You can also test the soil yourself with testing kits. Another great location for soil testing is the University of Massachusetts program which is inexpensive, gives results for major and trace elements and tests for lead. If you lived by the Asarco plant and need lead testing, there are testing places for that. The Asarco Company operated a copper smelter in Tacoma for almost 100 years. Air pollution from the smelter settled on the surface soil over more than 1,000 square miles of the Puget Sound basin. Arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals are still in the soil as a result of this pollution, with cleanup efforts ongoing. Toxin concerns in the soil exist for houses built before 1978, old orchard grounds (pesticides), industrial sites, downwind of cement plants or along busy highways.

Testing samples require collecting scoops of soil from 8 or 10 different spots in your site, taking each one from depths between 1 and 8 inches. The samples shouldn’t contain any living plant matter or roots. Collect them when the soil is relatively dry and before adding any fertilizer. Thoroughly mix all the samples in a bucket and measure out 1 cup of the mix, seal it in a plastic bag and label it according to the tester’s instructions and send it away. It’s also helpful to tell them what you’ll be growing in your soil.

Soil was defined as consisting of minerals, sand, silt, clay, air, water and organic matter and soil life. Healthy soil contains bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods and earthworms. Thus, the combination of all organisms and their interactions in the soil help to create a healthy structure. If you have moles…you have healthy soil. Organic components that create healthy soil include: tree leaves, dead plants, grass clippings, animal detritus, dead critters, shredded paper, kitchen and garden scraps. A question was asked about using printed paper in compost piles. The printer ink does leave some trace. Newspapers have mostly gone to soy ink. Standard copy and printing paper breaks down well for the purpose of composting. Some suggest that it be shredded and to not use thick, waxed or glossy paper. It all comes down to amendments by adding compost and mulch to give soil a boost. Laura mentioned that she simply adds compost/mulch on top of her soil every year and it slowly migrates down as creatures/microbes do the work. This can also be accomplished by mulching beds, growing cover crops (good supply from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply) and using natural organic fertilizers.

The term “natural organic” when used on fertilizers must be slow-release, composted animal waste and need to have the WSTA OMRI tested/certifications. Some organic fertilizers mentioned were rabbit, alpaca, worm and mushroom compost and Bailey’s composted cow manure in Snohomish (Bailey’s Compost). General fertilizer questions were raised about house plants—don’t use Peterson’s 20-20-20 fertilizer. When to fertilize—do not fertilize now (except for planting bulbs). Zoo-Doo fertilizers, kelp and fish fertilizer at half-strength work well in feeding the soil. Trees do not need much fertilizer once they are established. Mulching should be done now, as it helps with keeping weed seeds at bay and helps protect plants from freezing weather.

Another question about rototilling the soil was asked. Generally, you shouldn’t have to do any mechanical aerating if you follow an organic program. Soil microbes will till and aerate your soil. As your soil develops natural tilth from the microbes digging for you, the soil will become softer and retain more water from each watering. Rototilling has been shown to disrupt the good organisms in the soil as well. The darker the soil, the more radiation is absorbed during the day, which radiates more heat during the night—a tomato-loving recipe for success.

Sheet mulching, cover crops, organic soil products and fertilizers were also discussed and websites provided from Seattle Tilth handouts. In summary, a good soil mix is made up of minerals, air and water and that deliciously earthy smell. Soil quality is extremely important to the long-term success of a garden…and organic matter is the backbone of that healthy garden soil. Essentially, the health of our plants depends on the health of the soil and Laura assured us to take heart…our soil and garden health will improve with time and compost.

Susie Eagan: Fall fireworks

Susie Egan is a returning guest speaker and  regional expert on trilliums and native woodland gardening, landscape designer, master gardener and owner of Cottage Lake Gardens. Susie presented a PowerPoint talk on how to bring “Fall Fireworks into Your Garden”. She began with an appreciative statement of having been asked back to RGC…this time for fall discussions. While passing out a sheet about the plants to be highlighted in her presentation, Susie mentioned that she’ll be traveling to Scotland in a few weeks to lecture at the Scottish Rock Garden Club on the topic of Trilliums of the American West (7 species). She’ll be scaling back her Trillium tours this year, as 36 tours in 5 weeks was a bit overwhelming last year and left little time for other tasks.

FallFireworks

The Fall Fireworks in the Garden slides will include 32 different great trees, shrubs and perennials that were reduced down from many possibilities. Her handout even included an “I like” column to aid in our fall nursery sales events. Fall is a great season of change and serenity as we slide into winter time. Garden season should not end with summer, but extend into fall which is an excellent time for planting fiery foliage because the soil is still warm, rains help with watering and it’s 50% off at nursery time. But it’s also a time to be smart about the “sale” plant selections, with the mantra “right plant, right place”. Pick plants that are good for your site, as well as consideration of its requirements—light, soil type, soil moisture and drainage. With those final instructions, Susie began her march through the fireworks selections, beginning with trees.

Trees: In the Northwest, we’re so fortunate to have perfect conditions to grow the Japanese Maples (and natives) so well and many acer varieties made the list. These typically are slow growing, low maintenance and come in all shapes and sizes with fall color diversity. The under-used Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry tree offers flowers before it leafs out in spring and colorful berries. Ginkgos, sourwood tree (with its finger-like flowers) and Persian ironwood (with mosaic fall leaf color) are also colorful landscape additions.

Shrubs: The differences between Heath (ericas) vs. heather (callunas) were summed up with the descriptive saying “Heath have teeth; Heathers have feathers”. Susie selected several fall blooming “Scotch” heathers as great shrub displays. After blooming, most heathers benefit from an annual haircut to maintain shape. Rosita variety in the Garden Girl Series is a pink bud bloomer in which they do not open all the way. Say what you will about the old standby barberries, but in the fall, they’re color explodes, especially in full sun. They do well in containers and are deer-resistant. Golden Bluebeard “Blue Mist” was another fine shrub for color. Burning bush, although ho-hum green during the summer, simply blazes in the fall and Suzie recommended the dwarf compact form. In addition to color, Fothergilla or witchalder offers a scent of honey. The Snowflake Oakleaf Hydrangea also made the list with its white double flowers set against the vivid wine-red foliage. Virginnia Sweetspire “Little Henry” is another garnet-red display with a compact habit. American Cranberry bush, which needs moisture, offers ruby-red, cranberry-like fruit along with the reddish-purple leaf color. Finally, Smokebush made the list as a burgundy (sometimes chartreuse) bush that displays those spectacular smoky blooms that linger. This one blooms on old wood, so for best bursts of smoke prune carefully.

Perennials: This category included many different types of perennials from corms, bulbs, ground covers, grasses and floral bursts. Starting with the ivy-leaf hardy cyclamen “purpurescens”, this one has the added sensation of fragrance. These need to be planted high in the ground for success. Autumn and saffron crocus look great planted amidst ground covers and the saffron stamens can be harvested for saffron spice (memo: need many). Cape flower with its elegant tall pink flowers is hardy here and can be found online. The stonecrop sedums (think Autumn Joy) never fail to provide shoot-em-up fireworks, but often must be staked or supported for best results. Fall flowers bring to mind asters (or michaelmas daisy) and mums. Asters can be kept from getting leggy by cutting back early in the growing season—sometimes the bunnies take care of that for you. Additional fall bloomers on the list included coneflowers (Echinacea) with the many new varieties available now, black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia), sneezeweed (Helenium) , black snakeroot (Actacea simplex—formerly cimicifuga), yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma plamata), Mukdenia (a Dan Hinckley intro) and goldenrod (Solidago). These lovelies wait until the fall to send out their shoots of color. The late-to-emerge, stick-like hardy fuchsias wait until late summer/fall to bring on their dangling, beautifully colored blooms that arch and radiate all over. Then, if we’re lazy gardeners, the black seed heads add their own advantages to birds and fall-watchers alike.

The large category of grasses was narrowed down to Japanese blood grass and the fountain grasses (Pennisetums) with their cute, swaying bunny tails. Finally, Susie asked the audience to check off the plants we currently have in our landscapes and the top numbers would receive a trillium soap goodie. Several members had ten or more—a tribute to our collective keen eyes for cool plants. As we look ahead to all the seasonal changes, Suzie’s plants offer not only beautiful landscape color, but wildlife enjoyment as well. There are never any duds which fail to explode as in many fireworks shows, but these offer just the pyrotechnics we need at this transitional time of year. Nor are there every any safety tips we need to remember, just the cool effects of burning with flames and sparks of many colors. Smokin’ displays worth the planting.

 Patrick Spence: All about the Iris

Patrick Spence and his wife Margaret are owners of Cascadia Iris Gardens in the Lake Stevens area.  With the recent closure of Maltby’s Walsterway’s Iris Gardens, Cascadia will now rule over that kingdom with over 1,000 different named varieties and species.  And as a member of various Iris societies, hybridizer and show judge, we can definitely say that Patrick knows his iris.

Patrick explained that he was a bit intimidated by the initial request to speak before Redmond Garden Club with its 50 members (plus a waiting list) and asked himself “what have I gotten myself into this time?” But judging by the friendly group of gardeners and great refreshments, his comfort level rose several notches very quickly. Patrick described his growth from novice to “Irisarian”, including serving as past President of the King Co. Iris Society and current President of the Japanese Iris Society. Patrick took us on his varied life journeys and serendipitous discovery of an iris passion. From several career moves—martial arts and a chef—a chance visit to the King County Iris Society Sale at Crossroads Mall hooked he and Margaret on all things iris. It only started with their first purchase of 6 Japanese hybrids (all but two have been composted). Their first home in Maltby housed an acre’s worth of iris, but as it goes with plant addictions, a move to Lake Stevens for a much larger 5 acre site for Cascadia Iris Gardens (www.cascadiairisgardens.com) was a must and they’ve been thrilled with the wildlife as well (farmer ant sanctuary and even a killdeer nesting in the iris beds). 

The iris genus has about 200 species (with Bearded and Siberian the most common), so that the landscape could have bloomers all year round, if planned appropriately. Patrick touched lightly on many varieties in order to fit within our timeframe. With its trinity of petals reaching upward, the French incorporated iris into their fleur-de-lis emblem and used ground iris rhizomes (orris root) for perfumery. Patrick shared some fun iris tidbit factoids that were unknown to many of us, including the fact that there are no red iris, because the genetics are just not there and black does not exist—it is a dark purple. In addition, cut rhizomes will only bloom once in its lifetime.

The prestigious award in the iris world is the Dyke’s Medal and has included many NW hybridizers with the experience and material. Keith Keppel, Rick Ernst, David Schreiner and Paul Black (all Oregon growers) plant thousands of seedlings a year, so they have the best gene pools. But first came some iris definitions and Patrick warned us these might get a bit “iris guy geeky”. What most of us picture as the regal iris are often the bearded varieties. A Bearded Iris is quite simply any rhizomatous iris with a beard—the bright fuzz in the flower’s center on the falls, which attract insects. The Falls are the three downward curving sepals and Standards are the three petals that arch upward in a dome-like fashion. Iris are classified into categories, patterns and flower forms (which means the edges are either Ruffled—wavy; Laced—very curly; Tailored—No ruffling; or Horned—Beard with protruding tip). Crested Iris have a “crest” and beardless varieties have a “signal”. Bearded classes include: Tall (TB), 28 inches or taller; Border (BB), 16-27 inches, blooms with TB; Intermediate (IB), 16-27 inches, blooms before TB; Miniature Tall (Table Iris), 16-27 inches, thin stems, multiple branches, blooms of 6 inches or less; Standard Dwarf, 9-15 inches; and Miniature Dwarf, up to 8 inches. Patterns include: Self, flower of one color; Bitone, standards and falls of the same color, different hues; Plicata, light with contrasting edges; and Blend, two or more colors combined.

Iris care is often a source of confusion because the genus is made of many different species from many different habitats. Even if you disregard the bulbs (Reticulated Iris or Dutch Iris, I. xiphium—the darlings of the florist industry)—and focus on rhizomes, there is no one method of care that fits. What works for the moisture-loving Japanese, Louisiana and Siberian iris spells certain death for the Bearded iris. Beardeds prefer summer planting in a spot with full sun and well-drained—even dryish soil. Almost all hybrids are hardy in zones 3-9. To ensure a bearded’s longevity, though, you’ll need to divide it three to four years after planting—and just after it has finished blooming. For Japanese iris, it’s every 3 years or they will “kill” themselves. Divisions in late August/early September involve lifting the entire clump and cutting out bad parts (mushy) and the center, leaving cut rhizome pieces each with a fan of leaves. Trim the roots and cut back the foliage to a hand’s length. Harden off and when replanting bearded iris—8 inches apart, closer for dwarfs—dig a deep hole for each, then mound up soil inside it. Place the rhizome atop the mound so its roots trail down the sides and its top is right at soil level, with all of the foliage fan above ground.

Generally, the bloom season for Bearded are the shorter the height, the earlier it will bloom and blooms can last for 3 to 4 weeks, depending upon how many buds are in the candelabra-like stalk. Other iris varieties include Aril/arilbred, I. Stolonifua, I. bostrensis, I. unguicalaris, I. lozica (winter bloomer), Pacific Coast (I. tenax and I. douglasiana), I. ensata,  I. prismatica (interspecies cross), I. Japonica (shade/water), I. foetidissima (Stinking or Gladwin Iris) and iris spuria (flower arranger’s delight). Patrick had a warning about growing Louisiana Iris in our region as our area is not warm enough. You end up with leaves that turn yellow with black spots—often not worth the trouble here. Sorry, Black Gamecock lovers.  Siberian/Japanese Iris have the widest variety of colors. As Patrick described many of these varieties, he displayed luscious iris photos with fabulous names such as “Star Woman”, “Peggy Sue”, “Fairy Rings”, “Strawberry Cheesecake”, “Dotted Line” (a big seller), “Rubicon” and “Freckled Geisha”. As with all passions, Patrick’s has evolved into hybridization with his favorite, the Japanese Iris. Another “iris geek” lesson centered upon how easily this propagation can happen with pollinating crosses (before the bees descend), awaiting the seed pods, harvesting the seeds and nurturing the seedlings. Bulb food Patrick relies upon is any balanced food, but the Japanese iris need 21-0-0 numbers. 

Dotted Line
Dotted Line
Lyric Laughter
Lyric Laughter

Questions quickly ensued as time was slipping away. Fragrance is found in select varieties and rebloomers exist with a second bloom in the summer or fall. Crinkly leaves are caused by differences in warmth and cold as the leaves emerge—perfectly normal. Pests like the iris borer cause the most damage, by feeding on the rhizome and ultimately destroying the plant. Iris borer can be controlled by pesticides. Scorch is a disease that slowly kills iris, but the rhizome can be saved by cutting out sections and keeping the healthy parts. Patrick continued to answer questions from several members during the break. RGC Iris lovers feasted not only on Patrick’s lecture and slides, but on the promised development of new speckled, shiny, bold-hued varieties that will reel us in as a new breed of irisarians and that’s exactly how the passion begins. 

Wally Prestbo and Marcia Dillon: Northwest tomatoes

Wally and Marcia are Master Gardeners/Speakers who have taken on Bellevue Botanical Garden’s tomato responsibilities. Wally, who is famously known as our local “Mr. Tomato”, raises nearly 2,000 plants from seed, most bound for the MG Spring Sale and the rest to the BBG Demo site, followed by the annual tomato taste-off held every September. Every year, Wally stakes, trellises and cages tomatoes dozens of ways to demonstrate the success of the possibilities (and experiment). Marcia Dillon, also a tomato-head, is described as a passionate gardener, political junkie and occasional Bellevue writer (Twitter: marciadillon@dillon_marcia). She will provide help with good NW varieties. 

The past 18 out of 19 MG years have found Wally responsible for the BBG tomatoes. As gardeners, we tend to suffer amnesia when it comes to tomato disappointments. Every spring, we plunge in with tomato seeds and starts, gleefully anticipating bumper crops. But the cold truth is that the Seattle area ranks next-to-lowest in the nation for annual heat units, the measure of what tomatoes require to ripen. No surprise to us veggie gardeners. To give us hope, Wally mentioned that last July was a good one with some warmth. We have no idea what 2014 weather will be like, but hopes remain high…as always. Armed with the following tomato tricks by the Masters and their WSU/King Co. Extension sheets on “Tomato Problems” and “Caring for Your Tomatoes” that were passed around, we might just succeed this year. Wally and Marcia took a tag-team approach to their presentation on the elusive “NW Tomatoes”. 

WALLY: The first step begins with Varietal Choices and Seed- Starting. Get the right type for your growing conditions. Tomatoes are grouped into two kinds (by growth habits): determinate and indeterminate—or short and tall, as well as type: slicing and eating, plum (romas), and cherries. The former kind are busy and compact, great for containers. They stop growing earlier in the season, ripening all the fruit over a two-to-three-week period. Determinates (think Northern Exposure and Sweet Tangerine) do not need to be caged, staked, pruned or pinched as much. Indeterminates (aka vining), like Early Girl and Burpee’s Burger, are larger and lankier (can reach 10 ft.). They need more pruning and sturdy caging, which they make up for by producing fruit until killed by frost. Get a long tomato season by using different varieties, maybe a few of both types. 

When choosing starts, look for healthy green leaves and sturdy stems. And you know those little tags that say how many days it takes each variety to ripen? Wally says don’t take that as gospel, since ripening totally depends on how many sunny days we have. It usually takes longer than stated. A great recommended seed resource is Territorial Seed Co., whose varieties are all tested in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and which lists realistic NW days to maturity. Wally starts his seeds in a well-lit greenhouse in seed trays—8 seeds per row with 8 rows on a (70 degree) heating pad. Then he’ll transfer them fairly deep into 4” pots to increase root development and ultimately into gallon pots. They should be placed out in the garden at a site that receives at least 6 hours of sun and the most heat possible. It all comes down to “location-location-location”. The ideal is a raised bed basking in reflected heat off a south-facing wall. Around mid-May (Mother’s Day), the soil should have reached 50 degrees (roots won’t take up nutrients until it’s this warm) and the plants hardened off for a few hours every day. 

Tender, hothouse plants often never recover from the shock of our cool temps in time to fruit. A tip to help boost the tomato growth is to cover them with hoops (pvc pipe/rebar) draped with clear plastic (in essence, a mini-greenhouse) or put them in a cold frame. They’re leggy at this stage, so they need to be planted with ½ cup of organic fertilizer at a 5 to 6 in. depth. For a taller plant, dig a trench and bend the stem so the roots will develop all along the stem in the warmer soil near the surface. Best trick: Plant tomatoes so deeply that most of the stem and all but the top two layers of leaves are underground. If your tomatoes are going into a container (with rollers), a dark container works well, but must be monitored (moved around) if the pots get too hot (roots will fry). Container watering goes up to about 3 times/day in July and August warmth. A question about planting in aluminum trough structures came up, and Wally sanctioned this, but cautioned to drill holes in the bottom. 

Fertilizer and Staking: A pH test is a good idea to test the quality of your soil, with a 6-7 reading as very good for tomatoes.  They need a medium rich soil—not too heavy, not too soggy. Dolomite lime should be added to the soil, approximately 2 cups per 4’ x 8’ bed. Wally prefers a balanced organic fertilizer (5-10-10 or 10-10-10) at the time of planting, like Dr. Earth (4-4-4) or Whitney Farms, then doses with a liquid feed at the first of June and July. A fertilizer with too much nitrogen  gives you large, luscious vines but few flowers and fruit. Tomatoes definitely need staking. Pound a piece of rebar deep into the ground to stabilize the tomato cage, so that when the plant is heavy with fruit it won’t topple over. Over the years, Wally has experimented with several different cages and prefers the square one that can fold flat for storage. A question about the “topsy-turvy” caging style, was answered by Wally, who confessed to not having much input on that. The premise is good as it multiplies your garden space, keeps down weeds and provides warmth. It’s critical, however, to pay attention to watering needs, because these tend to be smaller than container plantings and dry out fast with the thin walls. 

Watering: Word of caution—never water from above; water on the leaves causes fungus to grow (our NW nemesis). Consistent watering is very important—alternating periods of wet and dry are responsible for misshapen fruit (zippering) and sometimes rot. Very heavy watering or rains can cause the plant to take in so much water that the tomato skin bursts. Water thoroughly through the end of August, then much less to stress the plant so the fruit will ripen before the weather gets too chilly. 

Pruning/Pinching: Tomatoes benefit from pruning.  As the plant grows, remove all axial branches that have leaves but no flowers; which take energy away from fruit production and decrease air circulation. Pruning off side shoots of tall types keeps them manageable and encourages fruiting. But remember to threaten them, not butcher them.  Simply pruning up from the bottom of the plant so no leaves touch the soil helps to protect from mold and blight. If your vines start to over-grow, cut back on watering and maybe do some root pruning to get them back into shape. Reduce or eliminate your fertilizing as fall approaches. More is not better. About mid-September prune off everything but branches with fruit, which includes blossoms with zero chance of forming fruit. Wally answered a final thought about “crop rotation”. It is necessary as tomatoes are in the nightshade family and benefit from new locations. 

MARCIA: Marcia began enticing our tomato lust with the admonition to read the seed catalog information very thoroughly. At the BBG site where she and Wally volunteer, they plant one-third of the plot with new varieties and the rest with the standard producers with Hopelink as the recipient. 

Seed Catalog Information: What info is important to the gardener in seed catalogs? Terms like Hybrid (F1) or Open Pollinate (OP—heirloom), determinate/indeterminate are displayed, as well as good resistance to disease (fusarium wilt, blight, verticillium wilt, etc.), uniformity/cold tolerance, and most important to know the number of maturity days. Avoid growing broccoli (in the cabbage family) up next to tomatoes. 

Varieties: Varieties that work the best in the NW are the ultra-early tomatoes like Northern Delight, Sungold and Stupice. 

Grafting: Marcia brought up information about the advantages of grafting tomatoes. Grafted plants help solve common garden problems with a vigorous root stock that enables more effective uptake of nutrients and increases disease resistance. There are generally only 3 or 4 root stocks used that offer different characteristics. This tomato allows an earlier planting, longer harvests, heavier yields, as well as reduced pesticide use. After describing the grafting techniques involving making diagonal cuts on the scion below the first two leaves, silicon sleeves or clips to create a healing chamber, misting for 10 days (all of which sounded labor-intensive), Marcia relayed a story about a grafted variety she dubbed “Frankentomato”, which simply took over at BBG. This might be the year to try grafted for comparison’s sake, however. But remember, before planting a grafted tomato to look for the spot where the graft took hold and plant appropriately. 

Collecting seeds: For those “greenies” that look promising in the fall, a trick is to pick and store them in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana about the second week of October. Saving seeds were also addressed as a fermenting process. Do not try saving seeds dumped into water in a jar. The fermented seeds should look clean in 4-5 days. Rinse and dry and then save. 

Wally mentioned that “Fine Gardening Magazine” published an issue devoted to tomatoes, which was very informative. A plug for the April 25th BBG plant sale followed with over 1,200 plus plants available—35 tomato types, peppers, etc. A flyer for BBG’s Master Gardener workshops at the Lake Hills Greenbelt Demo Garden was distributed, all of which are free and tackle interesting gardening topics. In summary, with all of these tomato tips, we shouldn’t be afraid to grow tomatoes. Some years just don’t seem to be good “tomato summers” and others do. In the NW, we tend to turn tomato-growing into a competitive sport, racing to see who gets the first red fruit.  Note: the first ripe tomatoes come from the warmest spot—the bottom. Our goals should be to get so tired of eating vine-ripened tomatoes before fall sets in, that we become tomato enthusiasts to the core. Wally’s and Marcia’s timely tips provided the stimulus to do just that. Do you really want to miss out on a chance for a real ripe-from-the-vine tomato this summer? Hopes rise once again and then we get a flash memory of eating those green tomatoes in November. New year, new tomato season. 

John Harmeling: Roses and rose care

John Harmeling is a well-respected ARS Consulting Rosarian, former Rose Society President and Molbak’s Nursery rose expert. Coming from a teaching background at the Woodinville High School’s Learning Center and a retired teacher at Bothell High School, John quickly captured his class’s attention and offered up his over 30 years of rose expertise for our benefit. A devoted rose caretaker, John handles thousands of roses every week and has hundreds of his own roses. John began his demo/lecture on “Roses and Rose Care” outside with the admonition that the next 3 weeks are prime rose-pruning time. A rule of thumb on timing is to begin to prune “when the forsythia blooms” usually around the end of February or early March (and it varies in different areas). So wait for that event before getting out your sharpened pruners. Begin with a good pair of durable goatskin gloves with long cuffs (a must for rose pruning), as well as a trug for throwing away all of the trimmings as you go. A bare-root Graham Thomas yellow climber, which can be espaliered, was his rose of choice for pruning demo purposes and would become a raffled item.When pruning large numbers of roses at regional gardens, he usually allows 2-5 minutes each, so that he can be finished by early afternoon. Obviously, he knows what he’s doing. Shrub roses don’t need to be cut back like a hybrid tea rose, but instead the cuts should be simplified and in straight line outlines. Cuts should be made at a 45 degree angle above an outfacing bud that allows sap to flow and rain to drain away from the plant. No need to be exact, since the sap energy will come up to the cane and locate to all of the cells as it “wanders over” or translocates to where the bud is located. If it is cut squared off, too close to the bud or too far up from the bud, it will often become a dead area where the bud you wanted to grow may potentially die back. But there’s no need to get obsessive/compulsive about the angles, as it’s not always disastrous if the rose is located close by the house.  However, don’t leave little wimpy canes.Remove branches crossing or rubbing against other branches, leaving new, healthier canes. Cut off suckers or dead canes, which emerge from the root stock (shoots that stick out below a bud union on a grafted bush), which robs the bush of strength. A pruning wisdom is “if you can’t leave it thick, leave it short”. Let the leaves pump some energy into the growth so that next spring it will be stronger. The goal is to have strong canes from the bud graft and an open center for air circulation to ward off fungal diseases. John caretakes several private rose gardens and noticed that there is not much evidence of frost die-back this year.As John carefully demonstrated his cuts, he mentioned his 3 rules or guidelines to prune any type of rose, whether it is hybrid teas, old garden roses (OGR), floribunda or grandiflora, miniatures or even tree roses: 1) Prune to health; 2) Prune to strength; and 3) Shape the bush. Why prune? Improper or lack of pruning will definitely affect performance. Thus, pruning is one of the major steps in rose care. Do it properly and you’ll enjoy beautiful roses all summer long. John mentioned that roses are like teens in that they are thorny and you have to guide their growth—an easily understood analogy. The goal is to open it up, find the line and accentuate it, take off last year’s cuts and leave it open for air flow. First, boldly cut out any blackened or dead canes far enough so that the pith of the cane is clear, white or apple green (rule 1). Cut canes so that they’re left thick and strong enough to support new growth, generally the thickness of your little finger (rule 2). All else goes. Depending upon your rose needs (larger & less blooms vs. smaller & larger numbers) you can shape the bush (rule 3), by locating growth buds which spiral around the cane and making cuts according to the flowers you’d like to encourage.  Fewer roses and larger canes, then leave fewer canes and shorter canes on the bush (prune about half of the plant). For more, yet smaller roses, then leave the canes a little longer (prune about one-third of the plant).After the pruning was complete, we moved back into the house for more rose information beginning with some of John’s “Beginner’s Column” handouts on rose buying, planting and pruning. In addition, John plugged the Seattle Rose Society and encouraged club membership with the added bonus of the Rose Petals Newsletter (www.seattlerosesociety.org). Roses wear as many different personalities as human clothing…from the informality of jeans (rosa rugosa) to the satin elegance of formal gowns (hybrid tea’s Just Joey). John described the various rose types. Hybrid teas like to be 5-6 ft. tall and are the long-stemmed florist varieties, derived from the Meilland family and bloom singly on top of the stem. These often run to the needy side. One of the most famous “Peace” was hybridized in 1945 at the end of WWII.  Floribundas are clusters of many flowers from 2-1/2 ft. to 3-1/2 ft. tall. Grandifloras are tall. David Austin shrub roses are a combination of old world roses and modern roses and are quite showy.For ease of care, it’s best to create rose gardens alone (between 3 to 4 ft. apart) or they can be incorporated throughout the perennial beds with extra care. However to succeed in the wet Northwest, consider roses well adapted for this region, as well as: 1) soil, 2) size, 3) form, 4) fragrance, 5) sunny site, and 6) disease/pest resistance.  Some roses will do OK in the shade, but need more food. Pink roses often inherit toughness along with their color genes. Red roses tend to be the most difficult to grow in the NW, followed by yellow. Season-by-season rose care info included spring’s annual prune and composting; summer ‘s diligence—feed, water and deadhead; fall’s one last grooming, which includes getting rid of rose hips (which are related to apples); winter’s tidying (defoliation equals no photosynthesis and no sugars created for the anti-freeze effect) and finally, cut back long stems to prevent wind rock during storms and consider winter protection cover if long cold weather is predicted.A Question and Answer period followed, as we all had various rose issues. John discussed options for diseased roses which included 1) throw them out, 2) fungicide, or 3) hill up the bud union, as well as removal of infected/dead leaves on the ground. Cut back to white/apple green pith wood and use a diluted solution with the fungicide to keep the energy going into the bush. When using fungicides, wear a mask, as even organic fungicides can be harmful. For very cold times use a shrub bag to protect the bush.Fertilizer questions were addressed. Do not use Epsom salts. Controlled blind studies showed this made no difference. Use whatever fertilizer is on sale, specifically a slow release in the spring, and compost around the bush which feeds it more slowly. Organics numbers should follow the rule “up-down, all-around, even numbers”.  Do not get 10-10-10 or 12-12-12, but instead get 4-5-6, 4-4-4 or 4-5-4 numbers. Alfalfa meal (pellets rather than meal) shouldn’t be the only fertilizer, since it creates too many “dog-legs”, and bone meal doesn’t help much. John uses Peters Fertilizer at half-strength, but feeds more often.Possibility of a blue rose?  This has been a quest for the past 20 years and a Japanese whiskey corporation (Suntory) has claimed success, but it’s more like a mauve color. Still more genetic work to do there. A question about skeletonized areas on leaves by greenish-yellow grub worms was identified as rose slugworm, an easily controlled pest with pesticide. A question was raised about “Macy’s Pride”, which was identified on the CRL (Combined Rose List) as a white shrub rose. For additional questions and help John can be reached at rosebudjohn@comcast.net or on Sundays and Mondays at Molbaks. Our futures in the garden just got a bit rosier after John boosted our love affair and confidence with the dream of the long-stemmed girls of summer—those ruffled, fragrant dreamy roses. Pruners are sharpened, raised and in the ready 45 degree angle position.

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Missy Anderson: Orchard mason bees

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