Thursday, April 28, 2011

Slowly succumbing to hardier plants...

Take a look at this photo, taken yesterday:

At first glance, it might seem perfectly normal. But take a look at this photo below, taken sometime in late summer, 2009:

Yup. That's right. Those escallonia shrubs (Escallonia x exoniensis 'Fradesii') were completely knocked back down to the ground last November when temperatures dipped down to the teens (despite the tag saying they were hardy to 0 degrees). That was five months ago. I'm hoping they'll sprout back quickly from the roots, but the greater lesson for me is it's not going to look like a hedge until next November. So what's the purpose of having a hedge if it's but a few stubs coming out of the ground? I just might have to dig this up and plant something deciduous.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

'Tis the plant seeds!

Just documenting the seeds I plant and when. I started this tray yesterday (4/11/11). From left to right:

Castor Bean Seeds - I planted a few in this bottom-heated seed tray, and a few outside directly in the soil in an experiment to see which will ultimately grow bigger in the long run.

Chile Peppers & Red Bell Peppers - This is the first time I've tried growing peppers from seed. I'll try keeping some in pots in the greenhouse and planting some in the ground possibly under clear plastic to soak up the heat.

Pumpkin - The kind for carving and eating - mmmm. I also started some "giant" pumpkin seeds in a separate pot.

White Lobelia - To put around the fountain in the front.

Lemon Grass - I got about 10 very small seeds in this packet, which cost $3.29, which in retrospect was a horrible deal. If their combined weight is 1/10 of a gram, that's about $250 an ounce. On the other hand, if I get 10 lemon grass plants, that's only about 50 cents per plant (figuring in the cost of soil & fertilizer). That's the world of seeds. They seem to be a rip-off and a great deal at the same time.

Savory - This will make a great addition to the kitchen herb garden.

Red Cardinal Climber - A hummingbird attractant, so the packet says. I tried growing this last year - I bought it as a seedling. For some reason it never took off, and only got about 8 inches tall. I'll try some different scenarios with the seedlings I get this year (e.g. one in full sun with lots of water and fertilizer, one in part-sun with less fertilizer, one in sandy soil, etc.).

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sitting here in limbo...

The flowering plums are done, the cherry blossoms are at their peak, and the cool-season veggies in the garden are going strong, but it still feels like winter out there. Here are a few photos from this season's very slow start:

The culms of Musa basjoo (Japanese fiber banana) are now growing about a half an inch a day. Before long they will be strutting their 8' long leaves which always bring a taste of the tropics to the backyard.

In the lower left, Aspidistra elatior (Cast iron plant), cannot get any more tropical looking and happens to be evergreen and hardy here in the Seattle area. I've experimented with growing some of it's variegated cultivars (such as 'milky way') outside without success. But I'll certainly settle for the solid green variety. The plant right next to it is the enigmatic Schefflera taiwaniana (so enigmatic I don't think it has a common name). I purchased two of these last year, they both sailed through the winter with no problems, and are now starting to send out its first shoots of the spring. The plant growing on the porch is Strelitzia nicolai (Giant bird of paradise) which grows happily as a contained plant and doesn't mind the cold as long as it stays above freezing. I kept it in the greenhouse for most of the winter and brought it out a couple weeks ago.

While the subfreezing spells this past November & February didn't kill this opuntia outright, it is now a bit more flopped-over than it used to be. And I should note that trying to take cuttings from this cactus and rooting them outside in November is simply a waste of time. The pinnate-leaved palm is none other than Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island Date Palm), one of the most spectacular palms in the world when it is large. I would like to say it's been growing there all winter, but the one in the photo is actually a recent replacement of one that died (which was itself a replacement).

Unfortunately, the slugs noticed my Cardiocrinum giganteum (Giant Himalayan Lily) before I did.
I've been growing Gunnera manicata (Dinosaur plant) for several years now, and pretty much have nailed down what its needs are in order to achieve mammoth proportions: First, bury the central bud in several inches of mulch for the winter. Make sure this mulch does not get blown off. If the central bud freezes, the plant will send up several smaller shoots. The mulch can be removed once the threat of a hard freeze is gone (late February). Second, it likes to grow in boggy conditions, so keep it well-watered. It doesn't seem to care about being in sun or part shade as long as it's able to soak up as much water as it wants. Third, fertilize the heck out of it (the more nitrogen, the better). It should also go without saying that if it's going to reach 8-10 feet tall, it needs to be growing in great soil, without a lot of competition from trees.

Monday, April 4, 2011

At least something likes the rain.

I guess one redeeming thing about this cold and wet spring is it is paradise for cool season crops like lettuce, spinach, peas, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower & carrots. Even though they are growing fairly slowly in this cool & cloudy weather, they will be at their healthiest and most flavorful when they're ready to start harvesting in 3-6 weeks from now.

Below in the still-under-construction raised bed section of the garden, I've got growing (closest to farthest) some Adriondack blue potatoes (Solanum tuberosum 'adirondack blue'), spinach, cauliflower, & Brussels sprouts. I also have some snow peas sprouting up in the bed to the right (not in the picture).

Two weeks ago (in mid-March), I started the seedlings below in the greenhouse. They include: nasturtium (on the left), sweet corn (top center), lupin (center), lots & lots of basil (front center), carrots (under the plastic lid) and mesculin (right).