Random thoughts from the NW Flower and Garden Show

Last week was Seattle’s NW Flower and Garden Show. This multi-day extravaganza features display gardens, educational seminars, and many opportunities to spend $$$. I had a little free time one day and shot some pictures, which I present here along with my commentary:

The Good

The “perfect” lawn is no longer just a monoculture of grass.  At least two of the display gardens had flowers scattered for a designer version of ecoturf:

And a very cool repurposing of old heating vent covers as part of a patchwork of groundcovers:

The Questionable

A gorgeous Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), “born” in 1893:

I’m sorry. I have a real problem with digging up 108 year old trees for a garden display. I would be surprised if this tree will survive its relocation, wherever that might be.  (Perhaps there was an explanation for this that I didn’t see, but mature trees should be moved only if absolutely necessary.)

I also wonder about the ethics of digging up a 700 year old alpine spruce (Tsuga mertensiana). I’m a fan of salvaging plants on sites slated for development, but somehow I doubt the Canadian Cascades are being threatened with condos.

And things that make you go hmmmm…

Pot…socks?  Diapers?

Blackberry vines as tree decor

The Importance of Not Leaving Your Veg Garden Unattended for a Week in July

Small dog snout + normal-sized cucumber provided for scale.

This problem is self-explanatory and probably not at all atypical for our readers. Pattypans became UFOs; grey zucchini, footballs.  Note that it’s been very dry here in the Blue Ridge. I shudder to think what would have happened with normal rainfall.

Beans amuck! Scared the hell out of Joel when he opened the fridge. But they wouldn’t fit in the bucket!

If you haven’t tried yard-long beans, give them a shot sometime. Super easy to grow, just need the usual pole-bean structure. Pick daily, or they get out of hand. They have a rich, “beany” flavor and no strings attached. Best sauteed – I toss them with a bit of sesame oil and soy sauce in honor of their Asian heritage. Leave ’em long to impress the kids! I bet one or two beans equals a full serving of vegetables.

Yard-longs (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis)  come in both green and a dark red that keeps its color after cooking! They’re actually in the cowpea genus. Normal green bean at top of plate for scale (it now has a complex).


Lamb’s Ears Revisited

A bit more on my recent travels to the big floriculture conference in Columbus, Ohio.  I always try to make it out to the Chadwick Arboretum & Learning Gardens, on the campus of THE Ohio State University. There are several components, including trials, a large arboretum, and several small gardens.  My favorite is the Steven Still Perennial Garden. It’s a lovely mixed garden, designed by Adrian Bloom (Blooms of Bressingham), and was installed in ONE DAY by their garden volunteers – 2005, I think.

Watching it grow has been fun. I noted [ with pleasure] that they’ve already had to start cutting back and removing some things. This makes me feel better because I am The Queen of Planting Too Close

A few highlights:

I thought of y’all when I saw
this…remember our conversation about Stachys the other day? Here’s a
new one on me: Stachys byzantina ‘Silky Fleece’.   What teeny, tiny
little leaves! And seemed to be limiting itself to a small area on the
edge of the border. Introduced in 2006 by German seedmeisters Jelitto
Perennial Seeds. They missed the boat on naming it…could have all kind
of fun with ‘Little Lamb’ or even ‘Mary’s Little Lamb’ as the director
for their North American office is Mary Vaananen. Heh.

My foot is just in there for scale – I’m really not that inept a


A gorgeous flock of Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’.  Hardy to Zone 4, the foliage is golden in summer, blazing apricot in fall, a wonderful shrub accent in any garden… What? Hang on a sec.

That’s Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ PP16,185. Trade name is First Editions® Tiger Eyes® Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac. Well, that took all the fun out of it.

Moving on…

Belamcanda chinensis – Blackberry or Leopard
Lily.  A tough cookie, this midseason bloomer takes drought and even
reseeds a little bit in my home garden. The pods burst open to
reveal a cluster of seeds that look exactly like a blackberry. These
weren’t quite that far along, but in between flowering and seed setting, they
do something else interesting..

The petals twist up into these hilarious
little bundles. I have no idea why or what for. Just kind of neat

All for now!

Questions on sustainability

Linda’s recent post on the sustainability of topiaries got me to thinking, is any horticultural practice sustainable?  And, does it matter?


Picking up on the topiary theme I thought of the ultimate form of tree manipulation, bonsai.  I few years ago I visited the National Arboretum in Washington DC, which includes an incredible bonsai display.  Some of the bonsai specimens in the collection originated in Japan and are over 300 years old.  Is 300 years long enough to consider this a sustainable practice?  Does it matter as long as there are individuals willing to devote the time and effort to tend and prune these awesome and inspiring plants?


More recently I visited the International Rose Garden at Washington Park in Portland.  Established over 90 years ago the garden is one of the premier attractions in Washington Park and in Portland.  Maintaining the garden, however, requires paid staff and an army of volunteers.  Is 90 years long enough to consider this sustainable?  Does it matter as long as the city is willing to commit resources and volunteers are willing to line up to dead-head and pull weeds?


Closer to home, I maintain about an acre of my place in lawn and various beds – trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials and even a few (gasp) annuals.  Is this sustainable?  Does it matter as along as my family and I enjoy our surroundings and are willing to commit the time and effort to mow, weed, edge, prune and dead-head?

A nifty garden to visit

I missed my regular posting on Wednesday since (1) I’m on vacation and (2) I hadn’t had time to find anything sufficiently worthy of posting.  (Of course I have a compost barrel full of snake oil products I could rant about, but even I get tired of that.  Especially on vacation.)

Note the strategic head placement

But yesterday we visited the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens just north of Niagara Falls.  We didn’t have nearly enough time to see it all, so I’ll share just one special corner.

The Poison Plant collection isn’t listed on the map, and the only reason I noticed it at first was the giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegassianum), a particularly noxious introduced species, in the center.  Looking closer, I discovered unique signage for these plants.

I think these types of display gardens – poisonous plants, noxious weeds, etc. – are great educational tools.  The trick, of course, is keeping them from setting seed and spreading.  And keeping 15-year-olds out of them.

Duty Calls

As retirements have decimated our Horticulture Department’s faculty ranks, I find myself in the interesting position of teaching a course in small fruit production next fall semester. I’m working on the syllabus as was speak (hence this post).  If you’ve read my bio (“About Us”), you’ll see that this is not my bag.  But our students are clamoring for fruit and vegetable production courses, so someone’s got to do it. We are also  currently without on-campus vegetable faculty, if you can believe it. Though I know a few full professors that could pass as vegetables – HA!!!.

Anyhoo, I volunteered because I know just enough to be dangerous, and am willing to learn more.  I’ve been an avid home vegetable gardener
for years.
My partner has a Ph.D. in small fruit breeding and genetics, and I helped him with some experiments back in our grad school days (and his field sampling/taste trials made me doubt my specialization in ornamentals).  We now  have a you-pick blueberry farm where I’m learning the finer points of blueberry culture (the pH thing is a really huge deal).  All this vast experience obviously qualifies me to teach fruit production at the college level. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but many Horticulture departments are in the same boat, with early retirements used to meet budget shortfalls, compounded by hiring freezes (since 2007 here). Research staff, grad students, and hired instructors are picking up the teaching load and helping  the already-spread-too-thin teaching faculty.  I mentioned in a previous post about our brilliant state legislatures’ desire to eliminate urban Extension programs,  leaving only the agriculturally–related specialists and offices.

This is depressing on many fronts, but what bothers me most is that I feel we’re missing the boat – just when Horticulture is getting sexy again.  Think of how frequently this discipline is mentioned in the media, whether in the form of community gardens, safe food production, the popularity of native plants, sustainability, organics, etc….unfortunately, the writers/broadcasters rarely say the “Horticulture” word.  But horticulture is exactly what they’re talking about: small-scale gardening and the art and science thereof.  People want to do it, they’re thirsty for good information, and now, with the spotlight on us, we can’t meet their needs.

Nice tomato!

I can’t really think of an image appropriate to this rambling post, so will end this with a more cheerful photo of one of my tomatoes from last summer (variety is ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’).