The hurly burly happenings of the past week, culminating in a holiday gathering of family, are behind us. Now I’m set to settle in and relax for a few days before ringing in the New Year with friends - leafing through gardening books, new & old, gleaning inspiration for the new year, browsing seed catalogs, and generally reflecting on the upcoming season. Rumors of snow are swirling about – how cozy that would be!
As luck would have it, I got my updated Territorial Seed catalog on Christmas Eve, so now I’ve got just what I need to begin putting together my spring seed order – or at least a first draft. Combing the pages, backwards and forwards – in the end, I’m destined to order more than I’ll possibly be able to plant.
But plant I shall! Especially in light of this motivating stat from the president’s message in the Territorial catalog — according to a newly released study funded by the European Union, organic produce contains 40% more anti-oxidants than conventionally-grown produce. It’s widely believed that antioxidants decrease our risks for cancer and heart disease. Factor in that organically-grown produce just plain tastes better, and it seems like a win/win to me. I’ve already started a list, but reserve the right to change my mind and add or delete. (After all, I just got the darn catalog!)
Yet I’ve found that my vegetable garden is somewhat less forgiving than my ornamental garden. It’s much more deadline oriented – especially if you’re trying to grow from seeds. No sow, no go. No plan, no produce.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned that I need to plan better for:
- I love to cook with shallots, but the bulbs need to go in the ground by late fall for harvest the following summer. Also, supplies can be limited, so I need to be sure to order pretty early for best selection. Territorial recommends making one’s order by mid-September.
- I could be harvesting greens all winter, including my favorite, spinach, if I’d sown successive rows in August, September and even as late as October; providing winter protection under a simple cold frame allows one a harvest all winter.
- Fresh carrots, another favorite, can be harvested all winter … and I’d be doing just that if I’d demonstrated sufficient forethought and planning to make a few successive sowings and choosing a variety or two that over winters well in the ground.
My New Year’s resolution? I vow to do sow much better!
I’m enlisting the help of my husband. Up to this point, he’s been strictly an appreciator vs. a doer of the garden thing. He’s promised to participate in the vegetable garden upkeep, which should help. I have to say though, it makes me a bit nervous – I don’t know if this garden is big enough for two.
Photo: © Paul & Sunny Daniels. Reprinted with pemission.
I’ve packed my smallish urban plot chock-full, creating a dense, layered tapestry of plantings. As a result, I find that I have little or no bare ground left, yet my plant lust has not abated.
The solution? Buy plants that stay small. Conifers, for example, have been some of the most worthwhile additions I’ve made to my garden in recent years. But not any ol’ conifer will do – they can get quite large. Dwarf conifers, on the other hand, add structure and oomph to my garden during the winter months and if carefully selected, will not outgrow their allotted space for many years. Here’s a couple that I’ve been especially happy with:
Cedrus deodara ‘Silver Mist’ This conifer’s exact size when mature is a bit of a mystery. One reference lists 4′ in 20 years; however, I’ve seen evidence in multiple gardens that leads me to believe that it will likely outpace this estimate. In any case, it will definitely be a manageable size for a long, long time and it is so handsome that I will happily push aside other, lesser plants over time to give it more elbow room if need be. In the accompanying photo it’s backed by Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’; a well-behaved, white variegated ornamental grass which complements the light, bright tone of the conifer.
Picea sitchensis ‘Papoose’ This very slow growing Sitka spruce forms a tidy blue bun, only adding about ½” to 1″ per year and topping out at about 3′ or possibly 4′ with advanced age . While I’m very thankful for its contribution to the structure of my winter garden, this plant really shines in spring; its new growth is a vibrant, fresh blue and creates quite a stir.
You might want to soften its prickly look by pairing it with a softer bed fellow. To accentuate the blue color story, try Festuca ‘Elijah Blue’ and then add a contrasting color accent in burgundy; a Phormium ‘Platts Black’ or perhaps Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond’s Pillar’. Either of these choices would provide strong contrast in texture, form and color. The columnar Helmond’s Pillar barberry is a deciduous, but wholly hardy choice reaching 4′ to 6′ tall and about 2′ wide over time. The phormium, although a good choice for its evergreen nature and strappy bold foliage, is not quite as hardy and is best used in a more protected location. Easy-going Geranium ‘Rozanne’ contributes a seemingly endless display of blue blooms spring to late summer and will round out this scene nicely.
During the chilly winter months, I spend a lot less time doing the garden thang and more time reading, thinking, planning and dreaming about what I’m gonna do come spring.
So in that vein, I’ve been appraising my garden and ruminating over the changes I’ll make this coming year.
After reading Douglas Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, I’ve re-dedicated myself to including native plants in my garden whenever possible. And as I said last week, I want to include more edibles in my garden too, although I’ve found I’ve got a lot to learn about growing food. Sure, we had a large vegetable garden when I was a child, but I was commissioned strictly as day labor: worker-bee slash weeder vs. brains behind the operation.
So as I mull over plants to remove, replace, or add to my garden, plants with food value and/or native plants that contribute habitat will get first crack. Space is tight; like many of you, I have a small urban plot and more ideas than room, so I’m constantly looking for ideas to help me make the most of what I have.
Well, lucky me! There are tons of seminars at the upcoming Northwest Flower & Garden Show that I’m sure will provide the help and inspiration I need. The show has one the most extensive offerings of horticultural seminars in the Northwest — a few of the many offerings that I’m most excited about are listed below. Of course, there’s a lot more offerings to choose from. Gosh darn it all, I can only be in one place at a time. Harrumph.
Seminars with an edible bent:
Monrovia Presents: Incredible Edibles with Ruth Estrada
Mixing Plants for Sustainability & Beauty
Weds & Thurs Feb 20th & 21st at 11 am and Fri, Feb 22nd at 12:45 pm
Espaliered Fruit Trees with Kristan Johnson
Growing Valuable Trees in Small Spaces
Weds, Feb 20th at 6:45 pm
Oh, Grow Up! with Willi Evans Galloway
Growing Vegetables Vertically
Fri, Feb 22nd at 2:15 pm
Growing Fruit & Berries in Containers with Sam Benowitz
Top Tips for Productive Container Gardening
Sun, Feb 24th at 1:45 pm
Seminars emphasizing earth-friendly sustainable gardening practices:
Garden Rehab with Linda Chalker-Scott
12-Step Program to Sustainable Landscapes
Sat, Feb 23rd at 4:45 pm
The Basics of Gardening ‘Green’ with Karen Platt
Manage Your Garden & Preserve the Earth
Sat, Feb 23rd at 5:45 pm
Environmentally Friendly Landscaping with Melinda Myers
Low Maintenance Garden Design
Sun, Feb 24th at 11:30 am
The Future is ‘Green’ with EagleSong
Tips & Techniques for Gardening Organically
Sun, Feb 24th at 4:30 pm
A full listing of the Northwest Flower & Garden Show seminars will be posted on the website soon.
Many gardeners’ entrée to ornamental gardening is via the vegetable patch. I on the other hand, came to the garden almost exclusively from an ornamental perspective. After the purchase of my home, I found myself captivated by plants and focused on the creation of a garden devoted to playing with them and learning how to combine them in pleasing ways.
Sure, I want to eat fresh, organic food, but I’m increasingly focused on how my culinary choices affect our environment and want to do my part to decrease the ecological impact of my diet by eating more locally; so I grow what I can, and I buy from the local farmers market when it’s open. Plus, I’ve found it’s just downright enjoyable to harvest & prepare food from my own plot!
Lest you think I’m ready to give up beauty for the platter, nay, ‘tis not true. I want to have my cuke and eat it too – a garden that incorporates edibles, but does so in an artful way. So it was with great delight that I noticed that one of this year’s display gardens at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show is focusing on just this theme.
Eat Your Vegetables – Garden to Table
presented by The Northwest Horticulture Society
Perhaps you have a patio or deck for your garden space, or maybe you’re a condo- or apartment-dweller gardening in containers, or you might have the space for a formal French potager: this show garden promises to help you learn how to integrate edibles into your garden, whatever its size.
To learn more about the display gardens, and whet your appetite for what their creators have in store for us, cruise on over to this full listing of the 2008 Show Gardens.
The secret to creating great winter containers is the same as in any other season – focus on creating a vignette that includes a variety of color, texture and form. Same concept as when you’re creating your summertime scenes, just calling on a different cast of players. You’re striving to achieve a harmonious tension: a balance of enough variety to keep it interesting, against enough repetition to hold it all together.
To compensate gardeners for what, at first, seems like a smaller palette of plants available for winter container use, nature has provided us with a few additional tools for our tool belt – stems, berries and greens for starters. Cut foliage like this would never last in summer containers, but in this chilly time of year, stems, berries, and cut greens can last for months in the cool winter air – kind of like the florist’s cooler.
In addition to the non-plant players mentioned above, the number of plants that may be a called into service is vast: a myriad of conifers, several evergreen grasses work well (cultivars of acorus and carex, for instance), hellebores, phormium, heuchera … to name but a few. Pay attention to foliage, color and texture in particular, for the most memorable scenes.
So here’s an idea for starters, to get your creative juices going. I recently did a container a lot like this one:
- Phormium ‘Shiraz’ (or another dark bronze variety) – the strong, strapping foliage provides drama and serves as a focal point for the arrangement
- Carex testacea – a fine-textured, soft, downward-draping grass with orange tones that are especially pronounced in winter
- Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ – the colorful variegated foliage looks great with the carex
- Curly willow stems – for architectural drama; select stems with orange tones if you can
- Helleborus argutifolius – toothy, bold, silver-blue foliage provides a nice contrast to the deep bronze of the phormium
To add a festive, seasonal flair, you might consider including holiday lights or ornaments.
Or you might be drawn to the simple but striking arrangement shown above, featuring mahonia (my best guess, Mahonia ‘Charity’) and a bronze carex in this richly colored stoneware container. This photo was taken at the 2004 Northwest Flower & Garden Show; it was one of the many fabulous containers that were on display as part of the annual Container Show, which features the creations of top designers and nurseries from the area.
If your container starts to look tired before it is time for a spring or summer update, offending elements can be removed and replaced with something fresh. For example, in late winter (around February or so) we will start to see the early bulbs and generally more variety in winter color spots at our local nurseries.
Look for small pots of the early daffodils, such as Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’ and N. ‘Jack Snipe’, which can easily be tucked into your containers to enliven them. You should also find a wide variety of pansies and primula, late winter stalwarts, that offer an easy and much needed boost of early color.
Although I often find that winter annuals can feel somewhat ordinary, many nurseries have been doing an impressive job of bringing into their late winter inventories more creative offerings and some beyond-the-norm cultivars of these standbys, so keep your eyes open and be prepared to have some fun!