Tag Archives: Puget Sound

The Virtual Vacation

Since it doesn’t look like I’ll be traveling this year I’ve been re-living past trips via the photos on my computer and putting them into slideshows. As you know, photos take a lot of editing to limit the number to what a person can endure who wasn’t on the trip. I’ve got photos of Poland, Costa Rica, southern Mexico, Hawaii, Guatemala and Honduras. But the photos I’m really enjoying seeing again are those from the destination nurseries and public gardens I visited with my sister to islands in the Puget Sound.

My sister Evan & me

Years ago, before I lost my sister, I would visit her on Fox Island, near Gig Harbor, Washington. Off we’d go by ferry to one of the public gardens or destination nurseries on another island. We visited the islands of Vashon, Whidbey, Vancouver, Bainbridge and San Juan. Any destination was sure to provide lush landscapes and a cornucopia of colorful flowers.

Vancouver Island is home to the famous Butchart Gardens, transformed a 100 years ago from a limestone quarry. Their website is https://www.butchartgardens.com and worth a few minutes to explore. Smaller and more intimate, Abkhazi Garden offer a fine example of what you can do with a large lot full of rocks and trees when you put your mind to it. https://www.abkhaziteahouse.com/abkhazi-garden.

“Lavender Sisters”

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.

Another highlight of my tour of gardens on Whidbey Island was a visit to Chocolate Flower Farm. If you like deep burgundy, chocolate, black, midnight blue, deep magenta or mahogany flowers and foliage like I do, you would be amazed by this garden. No surprise but chocolate cosmos are featured prominently in the perennial beds https://www.chocolateflowerfarm.com/

Meerkerk Rhododendron Garden

Another of our stops on this island is Meekerk Rhododendron Garden. This peaceful woodland garden features dozens of varieties of rhododendrons and we were drawn to one called Golfer with silver fuzzy leaves. Another one had velvety rusty red leaves that sparkled when backlit by the late afternoon sun. http://www.meerkerkgardens.org/

Bainbridge Island is home to the world famous Bloedel Reserve. A place to connect with nature, this garden allows only a few visitors at a time so each can enjoy the solitude and beauty of the 150 acres. Their website will hook you for hours of inspiration. https://bloedelreserve.org/

Clematis and alstromeria

Vashon Island. a large green island at the southern end of Puget Sound is home to 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 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. https://www.countrystoreandfarm.com/

Closer to home Hakone Estate and Garden in Saratoga is now open. Also now open is Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside and Elizabeth Gamble Garden in Palo Alto. So if your out and about, be sure to visit one of these almost-local gardens. And check out the websites of the destination gardens and nurseries I’ve mentioned.

Nurseries and gardens nourish our soul. They are more important now than ever before. If you want to stay healthy, stay gardening.

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.