Monday, December 5, 2011

This time...from above

While putting up a Christmas star in the birch tree, I decided to capitalize on my altitude and snap this shot of the veggie garden. In the center island we have Swiss chard, kale, salad greens, a few very miserable peas, and carrots. On the right side where the bare patch is, I harvested about 45 pounds of potatoes a month prior - it was a very good season for potatoes. Next to that are the Brussels sprouts and Japanese cabbage. In recent years I've become more and more interested in winter vegetable gardening. It's a lost art that our European ancestors were masters at, and I think it will go a long way toward mitigating the dreariness of winter.

This is probably the coolest thing I've ever built:

The fish are, as usual, hiding under the bridge.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Up Close & Personal

This little neon orange oddity almost looks like it belongs growing on a coral reef in the tropics, but is in fact some kind of weird mushroom. A few days after taking this picture, I noticed mushrooms very similar to this one being sold at Whole Foods. I've never understood the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms so I'll just let it live out its short life in peace.

This rhubarb leaf (Rheum rhabarbarum) doesn't seem to give any reckoning the impending winter's fury as it slowly stretches out of the ground. It's a good time to avoid slugs I guess.

Another plant that seems to be going through some "seasonal confusion" is this hellebore (Helleborus lividus). It has been blooming since August. Proof that humans are not the only ones befuddled by the climate around here.

One of the last raspberries of the season. Sigh. (btw, it was delicious)

On the other hand, these Brussels sprouts are on their way to perfection! Hoping for a mild winter...(as usual)...

Finally, some naturalized Cyclamen coum seedlings.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Flaming Foliage

I picked up this fiery little plant, called Mukdenia rossii 'Crimson Fans', at Molbak's last month mainly because the tag included the word "evergreen". Yet here it is sending all its chlorophyll from its leaves back to its roots. Maybe it looks like this all winter?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oh wow.

The days of the point-and-shoot camera are waning big time. And this is the reason why:

The picture above was taken with my new iphone 4s. The detail is superb. The colors are vibrant. The shadow detail amazing. And it's in a phone! This camera is - I have to say it - in the same league as my 35mm SLR. Of course it's a lot less "manual", but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As much as I like Siri (voice recognition A.I. software), which is also amazing and worthy of a lot of praise, I think the camera is the single best new feature on the iphone 4s.

Here are a few more pictures I've taken from my new iphone:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ah, Poor Bird

October must be "Critter Calamity Month". After last week's fish fiasco, I was witness to the murder of this little sparrow, who didn't mind me getting up close to take his final picture. Moments after I had snapped the shot, Noel dashed out of nowhere and clenched the poor bird in his unrelenting jaws, escaping to the safety of underneath my car where he devoured his catch crunch by crunch. For an eight year old cat, he does pretty well at this.

The Acanthus mollis (Bear's breeches) below is approaching two full months in bloom.

Finally, one crop that did very well over the cool spring and summer were potatoes. Pictured below are Solanum tuberosum 'adirondack blue' and a white variety whose name is escaping me. The blue ones, by the way, have made excellent french fries. I dyed some of the white potatoes with red beet juice for the 4th of July and made red, white, and blue "freedom fries" which was a big hit to say the least. After doing some searching on the internet, I discovered red-fleshed potatoes. So next year's freedom fries will be 100% authentic and natural and not tampered with in any way - although maybe that's too un-American...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Even gardening has its gruesome side

This murder would be less of a mystery if this fish had just disappeared altogether because that would mean it had met its maker via something logical like a blue heron. The body of the dead fish was found lying on the bottom of the pond Thursday afternoon while blood spatter and scale remnants were found on the top of the skimmer. My best guess is a raccoon clawed the fish but before being able to enjoy his dinner, the fish was able to wiggle free and escape back in only to die later from blood loss. Rest in peace little guy - try swimming a little closer to the bottom of the pond in your next life.

The other three fish were hanging out under the bridge where they think no one can see them.

On a happier note, the Escallonia hedge (Escallonia x exoniensis 'Fradesii') has made a quick recovery after dying to the ground last winter. At some point I hope it will realize it is supposed to be a hedge and not a perennial.

This Acanthus mollis (Bear's breeches) has been in flower for well over a month, and at over 6' tall, has never looked more stunning than it does right now. The flower spikes are very similar to foxglove. Unlike a foxglove, they are very long lasting.

Finally, this Purple elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) has certainly grown better than I expected (from a 1 gallon pot to over four feet tall in four months), but it is a mere shadow compared to its potential height of over 10 feet. So I am going to divide it up and over-winter it, with the hope of seeing it in its full glory next year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bragging Rights

In mild winters, the hardy bananas (Musa basjoo) you see in the photo above will defoliate but resume growing from the same height the following spring. If a big frost comes, as in the past three winters, then they will die all the way back to the ground. Unless of course they live in my yard, where they get wrapped in Christmas lights during a freeze so they don't die all the way to the ground. I'm afraid the only reason I do this is for the bragging rights.

The Schefflera taiwaniana in the photo below is quickly approaching my height. I am sure it will surpass me next spring.

Noel wanted me to take his picture. On his left is Ricinus communis (I forgot the variety - a red one) and to the right is Canna 'Musifolia' - a plant that is frustratingly spectacular. It seems to be hardier than other cannas. The stems are a deep burgundy with dark green leaves - very nice contrast. They reach about 12' before starting to flop over (I'll remember to tie them up next year). What's most frustrating is they get ready to bloom right about a day before they are killed to the ground by a frost. So this is merely a foliage plant around here. It also needs full sun.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Turning a corner

This red maple seems to be getting an extremely early head start on fall. I guess when you have several thousand plants, some are just bound to act weird.

I was going to wait until next spring to stock the pond with koi, but some very kind friends brought some over and dumped them right in. I am actually very surprised they have survived three weeks already considering the pond was in no condition for fish when they brought them over. They are still very skittish, but starting to become more lively as time goes by. They always travel in a line like this.

My second attempt at growing a cycad (Cycas revoluta) is turning out much better than the first (which ended up biting the dust after not producing any new leaves for two years). I was very pleased to see nearly a dozen new fronds shoot out of the middle starting in late July.

The plant below, which I just nabbed from Molbak's, is called Mukdenia rossii 'Crimson Fans'. I noticed it for the first time while browsing the store before going to hear Dan Hinkley speak, where he mentioned the very plant in his lecture. I resisted the urge to stay within my plant budget and bought one. It is in the saxifrage family, a group of plants I am becoming increasingly impressed with.

It's hard to believe this picture was taken in Washington, isn't it? (The dead give-away is the electric heater under the far umbrella)

Finally...I think my giant pumpkin has reached it's final size. It's about 65 pounds. I'll make growing a 100-pounder my goal for next year.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer's in full swing...don't blink!

Looking at the picture above, I see nasturtiums taking over the world, bamboo flopping over trying to shade out the pumpkins, diseased apples on a puny apple tree, and lima beans that are never going to ripen. Yet in a few months, when solar days are shorter than work days and the high temperature outside is roughly the same as the temperature in my refrigerator, I will probably look back on this picture and think "those were the good old days". So it is...never satisfied.

Most non-horticultural people will probably look at this plant and think "what kind of weed is that?" Well, it's the kind of weed where Tequila comes from - a blue agave or Agave tequilana. It stays outside for the summer, and I keep it bone-dry inside for the winter (Nov-April).

Speaking of blue plants, my Melianthus major (honey bush) is in bloom right now. It definitely helps contribute to the subtropical aura of this area of the garden. You can see the blue agave on the right.

Any beginning gardener interested in growing spiky plants in the Pacific Northwest can't go wrong by planting Yucca filamentosa (Adam's needle). It doesn't die - regardless of how cold, wet, dark, windy or miserable it gets. As you can see in the picture, its inflorescence is very attractive. Note: This is not the same yucca that they make yuca chips out of (yuca with one c = yum; yucca with two c's = yuck!). giant pumpkin in the making. I've clipped off all the other pumpkins and feed it lots 'o Miracle-Gro whenever I get the chance. We'll see how it does.....

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Almost a Tropical Paradise

The above picture was taken at eye-level -- and the photographer (me) is 6' tall! These Oriental lilies grow to 8' and taller with the help of a few bamboo poles as support. I use black horticultural cloth to tie the stems of the lilies to the bamboo poles. They are also intensely fragrant and make the entire backyard smell like a slice of heaven. Incidentally, they were supposed to be "Stargazer" lilies, but although I'm glad they are not, I have no idea what kind they are other than some type of Oriental lily! Here's another shot:

The back-lighting is incredible, isn't it?

The very wacky leaves of Manihot grahamii (Hardy tapioca) reach toward the light in this intentionally crowded part of the garden. It adds an artistic touch to an otherwise out of control jungle.

The plant below is Abutilon 'Tiger Eye'. At the time of the picture, there were only about 20 blossoms on it. Now (in late-September), it is absolutely covered in blossoms! This has been one of the most commented-on plants this season. I bought it in February 2010 at the NW Flower & Garden Show as a 1-gallon seedling. It's now taller than me! I kept it in a pot last winter and planted it out in the garden in March. It takes cool weather really well but not subfreezing weather. I'll be digging it out again and storing it in the garage should there be the threat of a hard freeze. It is semi-evergreen to evergreen.

I have to admit I was never impressed with any form of Coleus until this year. Maybe I just never grew them in the right spot before. I picked up two in the spring just to see how they would do and they have gone above and beyond my expectations. I hear they are easy to propagate from more thing for the fall gardening to-do list.

It's nice to see my Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta) starting to put on a bit of bulk. This palm will thrive in the Pacific Northwest climate if given some protection from severe frost. Here's a secret: When cutting off the dead fronds, I cut right below the leaf, leaving the spiky petioles on, because that's what will eventually form the thatched trunk (something you see all over in California).

Although I am not completely sure of the species, I believe this is a Beschorneria yuccoides. It suffered some bud damage during the previous two winters, but always comes back strong. I planted it right up against the south side of the house, so it is in a very protected micro-climate. It is about as hardy as New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax).

More to come soon!!!!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I like big leaves

I also like taking pictures of them with my new ipad.

Although the ipad's camera isn't as good as the camera in my aging iphone 3GS, it is incredibly fun having a full view of the final photo as it is being taken. It's a necessity for compositional morons.

Now back to the plants....

I'm not all that big on flowers (I'm more of a leaf person), but Brugmansia (Angel's Trumpet) is one flower that continually lures me. First of all, just being able to bring an Angel's Trumpet into bloom in the Northwest carries bragging rights with it since it must be overwintered indoors here. Once it is in flower its intoxicating scent can be carried as far as 25 feet away, which is most intense in the evening. It's a staple in an exotic garden.

As I write this, I am listening to a segment on Coast-to-Coast AM about the disappearance of honey bees and the conspiracy to cover up the root of the problem caused by infection from commercial pesticides. If bee populations are half of what they were a decade ago, I think there is something we are doing wrong and I'd also put pesticide use at the top of the list. I'm not just talking about commercial farming pesticides. I think residential pesticides - the kind you buy at Lowe's or Home Depot - are just as detrimental.

Having said that, seeing the raspberries covered in honey bees was a welcome sight.

But back to big leaves....

I bought a piece of horseradish root several years ago after seeing it at a nursery, not having any idea what the plant looked like. To my surprise, it has huge leaves and happens to be hardier than just about anything. The leaves shoot up early in the spring and tolerate cold spring conditions really well. The leaves grow to about four feet tall and get about 8-10 inches wide.

Philodendron Selloum is remarkably "hardy" for a big-leaved evergreen tropical plant. It can take some cold - even down to freezing - without damage. I would peg its hardiness to be in the same ballpark as Strelitzia nicolai (Giant bird of paradise).

Finally, this Acanthus mollis (Bear's breeches) is leaf-hardy during a mild Northwest winter, and will quickly sprout back from the roots after a cold Northwest winter.