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.