Monday, May 4, 2015

Rock On!

Real is pretty much always better than fake, but when it comes to rocks, there's just something about an artificial rock that I find fascinating.  Armed with some mortar mix and a few how-to videos off YouTube, I set out to create a few of my own.

Here is the before shot:


Step 1: I planned to create five rocks total, and wanted a nice balance of tall and short.  So I bent 3/8" thick rebar with my foot into the shape I wanted and wrapped some 1/4" hardware cloth around the rebar skeleton.  I secured the hardware cloth to the rebar with wire in as many places as I could to help rigidify the hardware cloth.


Step 2: There are a few keys to getting a fake rock to look like the real thing.  The first is the shape.  Rocks are usually very angular.  Maybe it broke off from a bigger piece of rock and has slowly eroded over time to round off its corners.  Whatever its story might be, it has to look like it has been sitting around for at least a few thousand years.


Step 3: I experimented with different mortar mixes.  This mixture in the photo below is a 3:2 mix of Portland cement to Lane Mountain sand.  It hardened into a very dense material that was completely smooth and rock-like.


Step 4: I wanted the rocks to be orange, brown, and grey in order to match the brick pathway surrounding them.  I knew it was important to vary the color of each rock while maintaining a cohesive palate.  In each batch of mortar mix I made, I put in different amounts of color so that no two batches would be exactly the same.  This is still the first coat (aka "scratch coat") but some of it is going to show through.


Step 5: Most of the rocks I made are hollow, but I found a great way to hide the scraps of paver stones left over from making the pathway.  No one will ever know!


Step 6: After allowing the scratch coat to dry, I applied the second and final coat.  Then I took some crumpled up aluminum foil and pressed it against the surface of the rock to texturize it.  I let it dry for a few hours until the cement had the consistency of packed sand, and then took a paintbrush and brushed over the entire rock.  At this point the cement is at the perfect stage for making cracks, dents, and crevices and then eroding it away with the paintbrush.  Basically it's just a matter of messing with it until it looks like a real rock.

Here is the final picture before I started getting carried away adding plants:


And now these heat-loving plants have a new little slice of paradise to call home.


So now you want to create your own rock, right?  Let me know how it goes!  The total cost was around $200, or about $40 per rock.  Definitely cheaper than buying a real rock - which would also include renting a backhoe to move it into position.  The time it took was around 15 hours total or 3 hours per rock.  I am sure if I were to do this again I could do it in 10 hours now that I know what I am doing.

Here are the materials I used:

Tools:
- Wheelbarrow for mixing
- Rubber gloves (wet cement is caustic)
- Shovel for mixing
- Small bucket to hold mortar mix when applying it
- Triangular trowel to apply the mortar mix to the hardware fabric
- Aluminum foil
- Paint brushes with different sizes and thicknesses

Ingredients:
- 4'x3/8" rebar poles
- 1/4" hardware fabric
- Mortar mix
- Water
- Cement color

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The 2015 Northwest Flower & Garden Show


The timing of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in mid-February coincides perfectly with the capitulation of winter.  The endless arrays of flowers are always a sight to see, but the richness of the show for me is in its fresh ideas.

West Seattle Nursery repurposed left over Christmas trees by slicing up their trunks and drilling holes to create mason bee huts.


If you look closely, just about everything was made from sliced up Christmas trees.  This dwarf peach is awesome.


I have a thing for hardy palm trees, unfortunately these were a little out of my price range.


Riz Reye's display on the skybridge was probably the only display in the entire show that was completely practical.


Just add dressing!


Most things were not so practical.


Wouldn't it be awesome if the moon was really that big?


This Chinese art dealer had some really interesting stuff at pretty reasonable prices.


I would have bought this if I didn't already have 4,000 other half-hardy cacti in pots that need to be brought in during the winter.

Euphorbia grandicornis 
Finally perhaps this is a bit of a rorschach test - what's the first thing you think of when you see these glass art figures?  If you see sarracenias and podophyllums, you're probably a true plant geek.




Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Mad Propagationist, Part 1

Before the discovery of heat mats, the gardening year for me would end in October and start up again in March.  The only horticulturally stimulating thing that ever really happened during winter was venturing outside during the occasional arctic blast to wrap Christmas lights and blankets around some of the more subtropical plants (not fun).

Now that I'm armed with a greenhouse and a propagation station in the garage, the gardening year never ends.

The propagation station
To create my pocket-sized propagation paradise, I put a 48"x20.5" heat mat from Home Depot on the workbench in the garage and hung two fluorescent light fixtures 24" above the mat.  Each fixture has four light tubes producing 2600 lumens of light for a grand total of 20,800 lumens.  I have the lights on a timer so they are on for exactly 12 hours a day.  I also have the heat mat plugged in to an ordinary lamp dimmer so I can adjust the temperature as needed.

The great thing about having this station in the garage as opposed to a greenhouse is slugs & bugs can't find it.  It is also very helpful in rooting cuttings and starting seedlings because the air temperature is in the 45-60 degree range while the root temperature is in the 60-75 degree range.  Because the root temperature is about 10-20 degrees warmer than the air temperature, the plants focus on developing strong root systems and don't get too tall or floppy.  Let's take a look at what I have growing here at the moment:

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' pups resprouting from the base
Rooted leaf cutting of an unknown begonia (From Steve Hootman at the RSBG), rooted Fuchsia 'Hawkshead' cutting, and a Beschorneria yuccoides seedling
Bulbules & roots forming on the leaf of Eucomis 'Rhode Island Red'
Learning how to propagate plants is really all about failing upward.  This sweet bay cutting was taken way back in September 2013 (15 months ago) yet has still refused to root!  Four out of the 30 or so cuttings that I originally took are still alive after going 15 months without having any roots whatsoever (most of the others rooted within a few months).  This one even produced four new leaves in the meantime.  Plants are amazing.

A stubborn Laurus nobilis cutting
I have also taken some hardwood cuttings outside.  Here, are Deutzia 'Pink-A-Boo' branches that are about to be mostly buried in a pot of peat moss, left and forgotten about for three months, and then hopefully rooted to become new clones of the original.  I've also taken some hardwood cuttings from willow, grape, and fig branches.

Deutzia 'Pink-A-Boo' branches
Plant propagation takes a lot of patience and diligence but is at the same time endlessly rewarding even for the average gardener who isn't interested starting their own nursery.  Stay tuned to see what else is being replicated in the greenhouse...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Awesome Plants from Northern Vietnam

Two of the tallest mountains in Vietnam - Fansipan and Y Tý - host some of the most amazing plants capable of being grown in temperate zones.  Plant explorers Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones from Crûg Farm Plants in Wales, U.K. regularly visit these two mountains in order to hunt for seed and introduce them into cultivation.  The bad news is they cannot ship to the U.S. so some of these plants are several years away from being even remotely obtainable.

During their visit to Seattle last month, they shared with us some of their seed collections.  Each plant listed below is either linked to a post about it on their website or a Google search if no post exists.  Many of their collections are new to science which means they aren't going to have much of an Internet presence, but that is all the more reason to find them and grow them!

Fansipan
Dendropanax cf. trifidus
Chirita speciosa 'Crûg Cornetto'
Illicium merrillianum
Daphniphyllum longeracemosum
Schizophragma cf. intergrifolia
Magnolia crassifolia
Magnolia sapaensis
Arisaema petelotii
Aesculus wangii
Zanthoxylum planispinum
Clematis fasciculiflora
Hedychium aff. tengchongense
Hedychium urophyllum
Hedychium forrestii
Magnolia insignis
Exbucklandia tonkinensis
Edgeworthia gardneri
Betula insignis subsp. fansipanensis
Lindera angustifolia
Hydrangea davidii (Hydrangea indochinensis)
Holboellia brachyandra
Daphne bholua
Sarcococca bleddynii
Stauntonia aff. libera
Dichroa versicolor
Disporum trabeculatum
Schefflera brevipedicellata
Schefflera macrophylla
Caulokaempferia petelotii
Viburnum fansipanense
Viburnum hoanglienense
Polygonatum mengtzense f. fonkinensis
Ypsilandra yunnanensis var. fansipanensis
Disporopsis fansipanensis
Schefflera aff. pauciflora
Schefflera alpina
Rhodoleia championii

Y Tý
Acer heptaphlebium
Daphniphyllum aff. chartaceum
Shortia sinensis
Oreocharis atrocuneata (not on the Internet)
Magnolia foveolata
Amomum aromaticum
Illicium majus
Rehderodendron indochinensis
Lindera tonkinensis
Rhododendron aff. sinofalconeri
Rhodoleia parcipetala (not on the Internet)
Lilium primulinum
Lilium eupetes
Uocoderodendron whartonii (not on the Internet)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Far Reaches Farm...Finally!

Last week I finally made it to Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, WA for the very first time.  I was completely determined to go this year before they closed for the season.  Their selection of plants is mind-boggling.  Like Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina or Cistus Nursery in Oregon, this is a horticultural hotspot.  And being the horticultural hotspot that it is, I did manage to pick up a few plants:

Top row (from left):
Eucryphia moorei - It's only hardy to Zone 9 but that's why pots exist.  I couldn't resist the pinnate evergreen foliage.
Iris japonica CR038 - This iris gets tall and forms purple "trunks".  Supposedly evergreen.
Sarcococca hookeriana ex G-W&P# - Interested to see how this differs from S. confusa.
Magnolia macrophylla subsp. ashei - A dwarf version of the big leaf magnolia.

Middle row:
Eucomis 'Rhode Island Red' - This gets huge and completely exudes the tropical look.
Woodwardia unigemmata - Giant, evergeen fern with the new growth a brilliant coppery-bronze.
Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Edge of Night' - Black mondo grass with a thin white strip along the edges.
Dryopteris championii - It was simply an evergreen fern that I didn't have.
Asarum maximum 'Shell Shocked' - Ridiculously huge leaves for a wild ginger.

Front:
Ozothamnus 'Sussex Silver' - Another silver plant to add to the collection.
Eucomis pole-evansii 'Purpurea' - I'm hoping it will be darker than 'Sparkling Burgundy'.

Also:
Clematis finetiana CDHM 14683 - Rare, evergreen, hardy clematis.

Clematis finetiana CDHM 14683
And:
Cautleya spicata 'Robusta'

Cautleya spicata 'Robusta'