Category Archives: Pacific Northwest

Plant Secrets You Can Use from Fox Island, Washington

deer_Japanese_mapleA year or so ago I planted a special kind of Japanese maple in my sister’s landscape. I traveled up to her house recently to celebrate our birthdays which are only 2 days apart and to check on the maple’s progress. Prized for their their brilliant salmon red bark which is much brighter than the regular coral bark maple, my sister’s Beni Kawa Japanese maple is coming along fine. I forgot to buff the bark with a soft cloth to polish it which keeps the color bright but I’ll be sure to remember that next summer when I visit again.

I also wanted to check in on her neighbor’s organic garden that I wrote about last summer. Bob was happy to show me what’s in the works for this year. Although he was fighting a cold -you can’t keep a good gardener down- he shared a few tips he is trying out this year.

Raw sawdust is his magic weapon in the strawberry patch. Sprinkled between the strawberry plants it is said to prevent annual weeds from germinating. He’ll get back to me with the results later in the season. His grapes were nicely pruned, the raspberries just starting to bud and the garlic which he planted last fall was about a foot high. The raised veggie boxes have been planted with lots of peas. Inside the green house, several types of kale and lettuce were just emerging in their flats.

Bob told me that this year again everything seems to be about 3 weeks early- sound familiar? As I walked the neighborhood enjoying the various blooming plants and taking in the sights of majestic Mt Rainier and the Puget Sound I admired many plants that also thrive here in our neck of the woods. A plant that grows in a multiple of growing conditions is always a winner in my garden. Here are a few notables from Fox Island.

What could a plant that is iconic of Scotland have in common with erica_canaliculata_Rosea.1600our area? Easy to grow heather and true heath look great in the garden at any time of year. Although both belong to the Ericacaea family, they are botanically different and are divided into the Calluna genus and the Erica genus. In the garden, however, they are nearly identical in color, shape and growing habits.

I love their colorful foliage and flowers and have seen the true heath, Erica canaliculata ‘Rosea’ blooming now also in gardens in our area. It is tolerant of winter lows a bit less than 25 degrees and will thrive in soil that is more alkaline than the calluna vulgaris heathers. Calluna types need more organic matter in the soil to really do well. Our acidic mixed redwood soils provide this and calluna cultivars are very cold tolerant. All need good drainage.

pieris_Valley_Valentine-closeup.1600Another shrub that I admire where ever I find it is Valley Rose’ Lily-of-the-Valley. The other vivid rose variety which grows a bit taller is Valley Valentine. It seemed most gardens on Fox Island had at least one of these beautiful plants in full bloom including the stunning white flowering forms. Books might tell you they require average water but established specimens are remarkable tolerant of drought.

Although it wasn’t blooming yet I came across a lovely choisya Sundance choisya_ternata_Sundance.1600also called Mexican Orange Blossom shrub which describes the fragrant orange blossom-like blooms. The new growth of this fast growing, evergreen, deer resistant shrub is colored bright chartreuse and provides year round color to the garden.

To round out my tour of local rhodie_pink_early.1600landscapes on Fox Island many of the early rhododendrons were starting to bloom. Covered with vivid pink flower trusses they looked great planted with viburnum davidii, daffodil and narcissus, iberis and black mondo grass. All grow great in our area too. We have a lot in common despite the distance between us.

Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest- Part 2

deer_Japanese_mapleLast Christmas I gave my sister a Beni Kawa Japanese maple. This tree sports even brighter red bark in the winter than the more familiar Coral Bark maple. She recently sent me a picture of a deer standing right next to it and looking  longingly at it’s next meal. Her tree wasn’t nibbled that day but I was anxious to visit Fox Island where she lives in the Pacific Northwest to check on it for my self.

The morning after I arrived I heard the neighbors next door outside in their garden chatting. I have seen their vegetable garden from outside the fence as I drove by and was curious what they had growing in there. I introduced myself and was offered fresh picked blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. “Come by after breakfast and we’ll give you a tour”, they said. I could hardly wait.

The front of Bob and Bev’s corner lot is landscaped with perennials, flowering trees and shrubs. Everything on the property is grown organically, they told me. “The weeds can really get out of hand up here with all the rain”, they hydrangea_paniculata_Limelightlamented. The back garden containing the edibles is fenced but the front is open to the local deer population. A massive Limelight hydrangea paniculata dominates the entry. Covered with hundreds of lime green blooms that will turn pink in the fall, Bob told me he sprays it weekly with Liquid Fence deer repellent.

White coneflower, dahlia, crocosmia, hosta and gladiola are just a few of the perennials in their landscape. Bob and Bev mix native plants with other plants they like. Native Oregon grape front_perennial_bedground cover and manzanita cover the sloping bank along with a small stand of vinca minor that is well behaved. Bev does wish she hadn’t planted the bugloss under the flowering plum but say’s the little blue forget-me-not flowers each spring are worth the effort it takes to keep it in check.

In the back, protected by a perimeter deer fence is where the edibles live.

On one side of the yard is a 40 foot stream Bob designed and built himself. Along the curving bank they have planted Oregon grape, salal, kninnikinnick manzanita and snowberry. Woolly thyme and black pussy willow also grow alongside. Wild birds love bathing in the stream. Bob used the leftover soil and rock from the stream project to construct a streammound for overbearing strawberries.

Another bed of strawberries is still producing. This one is built from timbers and amended soil from compost Bob and Bev make themselves.

The raspberry crop was great this year, Bev said. I had tasted a few and she wasn’t exaggerating.

They have an attached greenhouse, that Bob designed and built. “Overbuilt”, they both laughed.  Bob’s an engineer and couldn’t help but design thermal windows, fans, vents and a heating system that allows them to grow back-up tomatoes in the summer and to start seeds in the winter. The double pane windows keeps the temperature inside in the 40’s without the heat having to kick on. A meyer lemon grew lush in the corner covered with blossoms and fruit.

cornBob was advised he could never grow corn in the Pacific Northwest but being from the midwest where corn is king he had to try. Their crop was just setting ears at 4 feet and will grow to 7 feet tall by the end of summer. “They’re delicious”, he told me.

All bare soil in this organic garden is covered with bark chips. Bev told me she listens for a chipper in the neighborhood and tells them where to drop it off. They swear by this type of mulch. “Like gold”, Bev laughs.

Bob and Bev make gardening in the Pacific Northwest look easy. Their garden is the result of many hours of pleasant work and it shows.

Challenges of Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

strawberries_grape_vinesThey live in a neighborhood of traditional landscaping. Large lawns surrounded by neat mounds of boxwood and foundation plants are the norm here in the Pacific Northwest. But Bob and Bev had a different vision for their 2/3 acre corner property, They wanted fruit trees, vegetables and berries in addition to flowering shrubs, perennials and roses and they wanted to grow it organically.

Bob and Bev live next door to my sister, Evan, on Fox Island. Located in the southern part of Puget Sound, the island’s weather and climate are tempered by the water that surrounds it on all sides. This is both a blessing and a curse. Strong winds, thunder, lightning and heavy rain in both the summer and winter are interspersed with idyllic sunshine and blue skies. You’d never know these challenges exist when you look at Bob and Bev’s garden. It’s spectacular.

Both love being outside. Bob was raised in the midwest and Bev on the east coast. Bev confesses that long ago she was more into zinnias and petunias and “didn’t get it” when it came to real gardening. They started creating the garden about 6 years ago with Bob designing the hardscaping and laying out the original beds and recirculating stream. They told me they “take one step at a time” in the garden so it seems it’s never done. Don’t we all know that feeling?

There are a lot of deer on Fox Island which has been an ongoing battle. Originally, after deer ate acorn_squasheverything including the red-twig dogwood, roses, fruit trees and berries, Bob put up a short fence thinking it was enough of a deterrent. When that was less than successful, he surrounded the lower property where the edibles live with a 6 ft see-through fence topped with 2 wires slanting outward. “Works great”, Bob says although they have both see deer on their hind legs trying to pull down the fencing with their hooves. One time a young buck and doe got under the fence and it took several neighbors to help herd them out of the gate.

Wildlife is abundant on the island. They take down the 3 bird feeders nightly as the raccoons were tearing them down and demolishing them to get to the feed. On this morning a small flock of American goldfinches were enjoying a meal, the males displaying their deep, butter yellow breasts. They often hear coyotes closeby and 3 years ago a couple of bears swam over to the island from the mainland. “Are there foxes on the island, too?, I asked. Bev laughed. “No, the island was named after a British explorer”, she told me. The most aggressive animal they have ever had was a pheasant they named Phinneus. Seems he terrorized the neighborhood last year. He would land on their fence, jump in and chase Bev around the garden pecking at her legs.

It was predicted that the island would have a warm, dry summer but Bev told me it’s turned out they have been getting some rain. The strawberries are still producing as are the blueberries. The blackberries, which don’t normally ripen until August, are almost done for the season. “Climate change?”, Bev theorized.

grape_cluster_greenBob and Bev’s grapes were still green but coming along nicely. They grow a concord-type grape and have good harvests in mid-September now that they allow the leaves to cover the clusters and hide them from the birds. The main vegetable garden is fenced to protect it from Delia, the dog, who loves to eat carrots right from the ground as well as some of the other vegetables. The acorn squash are growing nicely and new rows of beans have been planted and fertilized with worm casting juice.

With so much to see in this garden my head was spinning. The stories just kept coming about the successes and methods they have worked out to provide food for the soul as well as the table.

Next week I’ll tell you more about this wonderful garden on Fox island.

Beni Kawa Japanese Maple

Last fall my sister lost her favorite tree in a windstorm. She lives on Fox Island in the southern part of Puget Sound. I remember hearing about the extraordinary Pacific storm on the national news shattering records in the Northwest. Gusts up to 76 mph closed bridges, falling trees hurt 2 people and thousands lost power. Her Silk Tree didn’t stand a chance.

Won_Yang_JanWhile visiting over the Christmas holiday I thought it would be a nice present to replace her dearly departed tree. Several nice ornamental trees made the short list including the Katsura tree with leaves that smell like vanilla in the fall and Forest Pansy redbud with magenta spring flowers, burgundy heart-shaped summer leaves and reddish-orange fall color. We also considered the native Pacific dogwood but she already had one in the yard. Driving around we started to notice the beautiful color of the Coral Bark Japanese maples in many landscapes and the decision was made.

I knew we would have no trouble finding a good specimen in the Pacific Northwest and I was right. Close Won_Yang_graftsby in Gig Harbor we found Yang’s Nursery and I walked into the realm of a Japanese maple expert. Owner Won Yang opened the nursery to give us a tour of the grounds.  We walked between rows of hundreds of maples and marveled at the huge bonsai specimens of Weeping Katsura tree, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, several different conifers and a very impressive, beautifully pruned Oshio Beni Japanese maple all over 20 years old.

Won showed us his greenhouses where he propagates the maples himself. He has been in the business for 30 years so he knows his stuff. Starting with a small green maple seedling with a half inch stem that is cut off 6″ above the ground,  he carefully grafts a tiny tip of new growth from the desired specimen onto the larger stem. It will take at least 3 years before the new tree will be big enough to sell. Won’s pride in his work was apparent as he smiled at the rows of newly grafted maples.

Acer_palmatum_Beni_KawaBack out among the maples, I had my eye on the rows of coral barked Sangu Kaku maples when I saw them. Lined up alongside were several trees with bark so bright I couldn’t believe my eyes. “What are these”, I asked? Won just smiled and told me they were called Beni Kawa Japanese maples and were a cultivar originally developed in 1987. They are prized for their brilliant salmon red bark which is much brighter than the regular coral bark maple. I was hooked. How could I not plant this gorgeous tree in my sister’s yard?

I learned that the bark of this tree can be polished to keep the bright color. Lichen often grows on older trees hiding the salmon red bark of the new branches. I’ll have to try using a soft cloth on my coral bark maple and see how it turns out. The Beni Kawa is a fast growing Japanese maple that will eventually reach 10-15 ft tall and 5-12 ft wide. It is hardy to 15 degrees.

Won grows his trees in a 50/50 mixture of top soil blend and fine crushed bark. He fertilizes with a balanced granular fertilizer and prunes in the winter. The 6 ft tree I bought my sister will not need to be pruned for a couple of years allowing it to establish a strong root system.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the new tree evolves as it grows especially since I know where this Beni Kawa Japanese maple was born.

Chocolate in the Garden

Chocolate_Flower_Farm_perennial_beds 2Gardeners are always on the look out for new plants. I recall when I worked at a nursery looking over the showy dahlia shipment for the one that was a deeper, more vivid shade than all the rest. One color that always gets my attention is chocolate.  Whether I find it in the foliage of a plant or the flower itself it's one of my favorites. You can imagine my delight when I discovered the Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley on Whidbey Island while I was visiting the Puget Sound recently. I was a kid in the candy store.

As a landscape designer I often get requests for certain colors to be included in the plant palette. Mahogany,burgundy, deep magenta, midnight blue, eggplant often make the list. Many people like dark flowers or foliage paired with ivory, others prefer peach or chartreuse. I marveled at all the combinations at the Chocolate Flower Farm.

Some plants are the color of chocolate and some smell like the real thing. Chocolate cosmos looks and smells chocolate_colored_flowers 2just like a dark chocolate bar. The warmth of the day releases this delicious fragrance. A favorite flower for the perennial bed it's always a winner with kids.

In addition to chocolate cosmos, a wildflower called chocolate flower or berlandiera lyrata grew at the farm. I also enjoyed the fragrance of warm chocolate in the flowers of chocolate akebia, chocolate mint and chocolate snakeroot.

Strolling the grassy paths at the Chocolate Flower Farm  I admired a Sparkling Burgundy pineapple lily. The foliage, nearly black, glistened in the sun growing next to a white-flowering Nine Bark called Summer Wine.
Nearby a clump of two-tone chocolate and ivory daylillies bloomed. With grazing horses nearby and a dozen ducks taking turns bathing in a kiddie pool the scene was idyllic. At every turn a different pairing of chocolate flowers and foliage caught my attention.

One section featured plants for a kid's chocolate garden. Easy to grow chocolate pincushion flower, chocolate viola, chocolate nasturtium, chocolate snapdragon, chocolate sunflower and chocolate painted tongue would be fun for any child to have in their own garden.  

I loved a penstemon called Chocolate Drop as well as a Mahogany monarda the color of deepest magenta. Blooming black sweet peas grew up and and over an old bed frame. A dark purple-black clematis from Russia called Negritanka intertwined with lime green hops covering an arbor. Toffee Twist sedge, Royal Purple smokebush, Chocolate Sundae dahlia, Sweet Hot Chocolate daylily, Chocolate Plant and Hot Cocoa roses grew in many of the flower beds.

Himalayan_pheasant_berry 2What makes dark foliage or dark flowers pop?  At The Chocolate Farm each bed pairs the deep rich chocolate color with another contrasting shade. I don't know which was my favorite. One area featured peach, pink and silver to offset the darker shades. Pink dahlia and fairy wand, blue oat grass and rose colored sedum 'Autumn Joy' made a lovely vignette. Another bed paired the yellow flowers of phygelius 'Moonraker' and digitalis grandiflora with white anemone and ivory dahlias set among Chocolate Baby New Zealand flax.

Not to be ignored the dark chocolate shade of black sambucus growing next to a golden Himalayan Pheasant Berry made an impression. All-gold Japanese Forest grass at the base of dark leaved Tropicana canna lily was also a show stopper.

If you are up on Whidbey Island, the Chocolate Flower Farm is a great place to spend an afternoon. If your vacation plans don't include the Pacific Northwest, plant some chocolate in your own garden.


Gardens around The Puget Sound

My summer travel season started this year in the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. My sister lives on Fox Island overlooking the sound with a breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier. There are so many gardens and nurseries in this area I hardly know where to start when I come up here. Any destination was sure to provide lush landscapes and a cornucopia of colorful flowers.

clematis_tangerine_alstroemeria2green island at the southern end of Puget Sound. After the ferry docked we headed south to visit The Country Store and Gardens. This nursery in the heart of the island boasts mature plantings on a 10 acre site with the nursery featuring rare and and unusual plants along with a wide selection of perennials, shrubs and blueberries.

The flowers of a deep, dark purple clematis mingled with a rich pink, climbing cabbage rose both growing on a long trellis surrounding the front porch of the store. A dead fruit tree was left to provide support for another midnight purple clematis blooming above a bed of deep red Lucifer crocosmia.  I'll remember this exciting pairing for a future design where the spreading crocosmia won't be a problem.

This nursery propagates many of their plants from their own stock. Mature specimens of ornamental grape, lace-cap hydrangeas, tangerine colored alstroemeria, hellebore and heuchera grew in the perennial beds bordered by sections of cut logs. We enjoyed the sweet scent of Summer Ice daphne and admired the velvet red blossoms of Serotina honeysuckle before moving on to our next destination.

swallowtail_on_hydrangea2The Pacific Northwest is famous for their lavender fields. The soil and climate here really agrees with this plant.
Lavender Hill Farm is just one of many lavender growing concerns on the island. On a hill overlooking the picturesque Quartermaster Harbor, several lavender varieties are grown.

You can pick some for yourself or buy some already harvested. Sitting under an apple tree, a young worker introduced herself as Audrey and told me the farm grows several French lavender varieties. Grosso is grown for the long stems and fat flower buds, Provence for intense fragrance and Melissa and Coconut Ice for their pink flower buds. It's a beautiful spot with sailboats docked below in the tiny harbor.

Next stop, famous in the nursery world, was Dig Nursery. I've seen it mentioned in Pacific Horticulture and Sunset Dig_Nursery_waterfeature2magazines. The plants here are displayed in very unique ways making this destination nursery something to be experienced. Massive gabion pillars made of heavy wire fencing and river rocks provide the base for rusted ornamental iron trellises and arbors. More rusted iron is fashioned into hanging planters overflowing with flowers, succulents and grasses.

Repurposed cyclone fence sections provided a perfectly drained platform for more succulents, native plants, herbs and grasses. Several pots of unique black daylilies caught our attention as did the large collection of Darlingtonia and other carnivorous plants. In the shade section, a lime-green lace cap hydrangea was offered for sale with mopheads, Japanese forest grass and hellebore. We wondered if the resting Swallowtail butterfly came with the pot of hydrangeas.

Another ferry another island. This time the ferry takes us to Whidbey Island. Here there are flowers blooming everywhere. Hanging baskets of purple and lilac supertunia, lobelia and red ivy geraniums grace every light pole. The container plantings burst with color. White rugosa roses grow on a split rail fence overlooking the harbor in Langley.

Meerkerk_Gardens2One of our stops on the island is Meerkerk Rhododendron Garden. At this time of year we thought the show would be over but we were pleasantly surprised to find several very specimens still blooming. There are so many kinds of rhododendrons here and we were drawn to one called Golfer with silver fuzzy leaves. Another one had velvety rusty red leaves that sparkled backlit by the late afternoon sun.

The perennial beds were filled with lilac oriental poppy, dahlia, campanula, lavender and shasta daisy. A 30 ft white dogwood shone like a beacon surrounded by the deep green fir trees. Bordering the curving paths, oregano and moss covered fieldstone beckoned one to linger and admire the smaller jewels of the garden.

Another highlight of my tour of gardens was a visit to Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley. If you like deep burgundy, chocolate, black, midnight blue, deep magenta or mahogany flowers and foliage like I do you would  also be amazed by this garden. There is so much to share about this special place that I plant to write about all it's treasures in another column. Stay tuned.

As I left to fly back to California and the redwoods I thought that in some ways this temperate rain forest is not so different from ours. It's a little greener up here during the summer and the daylight from 5am to 10 pm makes the plants bloom like crazy, but there's no place like home.