Thursday, December 27, 2012

I'm Not Dead Yet!

Komo News weatherman Scott Sistek made an interesting point about our recent weather.  In the past 75 days, it has rained on 68 of those days.  The 75 days prior to that (Oct. 12 to July 30) was the exact opposite: Mostly sunny on 68 of the 75 days.  In other words, if you're going to visit Seattle, visit in summer when it's not raining every day.  You can read his article here.

The good news about all this rain is there haven't been any "arctic express" events so far.  There haven't even been any light freezes to speak of - just a couple nights getting down to about 30F/-1C.  And as long as the jet stream keeps flowing our way, it will ward off any bad arctic air so I'm completely fine with it raining for the next two months.  Here is a sign of just how mild it has been around here:

Hydrangea macrophylla on December 27th, 2012
Some not-really-hardy subtropical plants get left outside all winter just to see if they will make it.  There also wasn't any room in the greenhouse so bringing them in wasn't really an option.  I did get a lot of cuttings just in case.  But so far, this Brugmansia is doing just fine:

Bare Brugmansia
This Castor Bean plant is probably a bit closer to death, but still hanging on!

Ricinus communis 'Carmencita red'
This potted Bearss Lime (Citrus × latifolia) blends in so well with its surroundings I neglected to take it in, yet it doesn't seem phased in the least by the cold.  I will probably try to get this acclimated to the greenhouse just to keep it happy.

Citrus × latifolia
The two species of hardy cyclamen in the garden are both in bloom right now.  Here is Cyclamen hederifolium:

Cyclamen hederifolium
And Cyclamen coum:

Cyclamen coum
Plants with great evergreen foliage also really shine this time of year seeing as there is less foliage to go around in the garden.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Barry's silver'
Rubus lineatus
Clockwise from left: Melianthus major, Arbutus unedo, Schefflera brevipedunculata
And finally, a plant geek's plant if there ever was one: Brassica oleracea var. longata or Walking Stick Kale.  It was planted almost two years ago from seed and looks primed to put on a ton of growth in the spring.  It's already six feet tall and will hopefully get to 10 feet before going to seed.

Brassica oleracea var. longata

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Does This Have Something To Do With The Mayan Calendar?

Nothing spreads a bit of Christmas cheer like seeing hardy bananas still halfway in-tact this far into December.

Musa basjoo
Since October 1st, it has only dipped below freezing once (to 30F/-1C) on November 10th.  The mild weather has some interesting influences on a few plants.  Some plants think it's late summer...

Others think it's early spring.

Primula vulgaris

Rubus idaeus 'Caroline'
Plants all over the place are in the wrong season!

Lilium longiflorum
Lewisia cotyledon
Polygala chamaebuxus 'Kamniski'
Speaking of the wrong season, I stuck this bromeliad under these palms for the summer and when I went to go pull it out a month ago, it wouldn't budge!  If it doesn't want to move into the greenhouse, I won't interfere.  Maybe it will survive the winter out here...

Neoregelia princeps

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Official!

The 2nd annual Normandy Park Garden Festival & Plant Sale will be held on Saturday, July 6th, 2013 at the Galicic residence!  It is a free community event, open to the public, and will be held in the very garden where all the pictures on this blog come from.  This year's special guest speakers will be none other than Kelly Dodson & Sue Milliken of Far Reaches Farm!  Their nursery in Port Townsend, Washington is just beginning to gain world-wide notoriety for its impressive selection of rare plants from every corner of the earth, which can then be mailed to any other corner of the earth through their online mail-order store.

In addition to serving a free catered lunch & refreshments, there will be activities for the kids such as a garden scavenger hunt, face painting, a bounce house, and lots more.  Both I (Justin) and Far Reaches Farm will be selling hundreds of varieties of great new plants for you to add to your own garden.  There will be more information to come as the event draws nearer so check back here for updates!

To join the mailing list, please RSVP to Justin at this e-mail address: 

Here are some photos from last year's event with guest speaker Dan Hinkley:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Here Comes the Su....There Went the Sun

The picture below is deceptive.  It looks like it's a nice day, but the truth is it was a short glimpse of a sun break in an otherwise wet, cold, dark, and windy day.  By the time my eyes adjusted, the sun went behind a cloud indefinitely.

On the other hand, if it wasn't for this steady supply of weather systems (i.e. rain) we've had over the past month and a half, there would have been at least a few good frosts by now, which would make sightings on December 2nd like this impossible:

Canna 'Tropical yellow'
Or this:
The flower stalk of Acanthus mollis 'Tasmanian angel' rising through a Schefflera taiwaniana
Even the leaves of this Gunnera manicata have yet to show signs of capitulating.

Gunnera manicata
If this benign weather continues through the winter, I will jump for joy from the rooftop (just kidding!).

Center left: Washingtonia robusta, Center right: Melianthus major

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Now look alive!

As the garden settles into winter mode there are a few plants that are determined to defy the impending hostility brought forth by old man winter, showing no signs of slowing down.  In fact, the plants in this post look more alive now than they did a month ago.

Case in point, the growing season for this plant is the winter.  It goes dormant during the heat of the summer.  I hardly believed that when I bought it, but now that I've seen it, it's true.  It's called Arum italicum 'White Winter' and supposedly makes a great companion plant to hostas since their growth/dormant periods are reversed.

Arum italicum 'White Winter'
New growth like this is typically only seen in the spring...not on November 25th:

Arum italicum 'White Winter'
It's also hardy to Zone 5 (-20F/-29C) so just about anyone can enjoy it.

One genus that has a 99.99% fail rate in Seattle are aloes.  I've tried several "hardy" aloes, giving them perfectly draining soil in a nice sunny spot, only to find a gooey mess after an arctic outbreak.  I bought this aloe, labeled Aloe 'Johnson's Hybrid' last spring and was very happy to see it essentially quadruple in size over the summer.  This will be its first winter in the ground and so far so good - it's even starting to bloom!

Aloe 'Johnson's Hybrid'
Luckily the aloe is far from the only plant in bloom right now.  This next one actually starts blooming in mid-fall and carries through to at least Christmas.  It is sometimes confusingly referred to as Kaffir lily, but its botanical name is Hesperantha coccinea.  In the background is the venerable Schefflera taiwaniana.  Two outstanding plants...there's a reason they're right by the front door!

Hesperantha coccinea
This Camellia sasanqua 'Apple Blossom' is really starting to grow into a nice espalier and conveys a subtropical look quite well even though it was only a few degrees above freezing when this picture was taken.

Camellia sasanqua 'Apple Blossom'

I believe there's a lifetime supply of bird food on this Pyracantha coccinea (firethorn).

Pyracantha coccinea
And finally...the least hardy of the lot (except perhaps the aloe) but well worth the attempt in Seattle: Dichroa febrifuga.  It's an evergreen hydrangea relative with lavender flowers followed by metallic purple or blue berries.  I'm guessing I need to add some aluminum sulfate to the soil here to acidify it and turn the berries blue as I would for a hydrangea flower.  It's on the to do list for next year...

Dichroa febrifuga

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Disquieting Metamorphosis

November is the stormiest and wettest month in Seattle.  This November has been no exception...we've already surpassed our average of 5 1/2 inches of rain for the month and experienced a few good doses of wind - hurricane-force in some areas.  Although it is still mid-fall, November can easily bring lowland snow and prolonged subfreezing temps.  But luckily there's been none of that so far!

As warm, dry, and sunny gives way to cold, wet, and cloudy, there is still much to look forward to in the garden...collecting and germinating seeds, testing winter propagation techniques, winter bloomers, frost-sweetened brassicas, and a chance to stand back and re-imagine different areas of the garden.

The Cardiocrinum giganteum (Giant Himalayan lily) I planted a few years ago went to seed and I am going to try my best to raise a cardiocrinum family.

Cardiocrinum giganteum seed pods
Here is what it looked like when it was in bloom:

Cardiocrinum giganteum flowering
Each seed pod contained hundreds of flat, paper-thin seeds.

Look at all those seeds!
To germinate the seeds, I took a plastic-mesh tray and lined it with some left over row crop cover to keep the bugs away and filled it with some potting mix.  Then I sprinkled some of the fresh seeds right on top.

I read that it takes a while for Cardiocrinum seeds to germinate, so it is a good idea to cover the seeds with gravel in order to prevent a film of green slime from growing over the top. 

 Here is the end result: 

It's going to stay outside all winter and will probably be forgotten until sometime in the springtime...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Potato Overload

Potatoes are my kind of crop.  You stick them in the ground in May, forget about them, and then dig up 20 times what you planted in October.  I harvested 50 pounds of potatoes this year from about 25 square feet of land (2 pounds per square foot).  That is about equal in weight to all the peas, carrots, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus I grew, with a lot less effort.  The only real key is to give them rich, deep soil.  I also should have covered some in dirt as they grew - you can see some of them turned green because they grew out of the soil and started photosynthesizing. They produce a neurotoxin called solanine when this happens.  I will not be eating these ones - I will most likely use them as seed potatoes for next year.

I plan to store them in shoe boxes wrapped in several layers of breathable landscaping fabric in the garage during the winter.  The goal is to give the potatoes a pitch black, cool, and humid but not airtight environment.

Check my blog in a couple days from now and you will see me being a little creative with the taters...

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Giant Pumpkin Club

Dill's Atlantic Giant Pumpkin
My first attempt at growing a giant pumpkin ended up in a lopsided 65-pounder.  Not great considering the biggest pumpkins can weigh more than cars.  This year I'm going for 100 pounds - hopefully big enough to stick a small nephew inside of.  Right now it is about the size of last year's so it's gotta put on another 40 pounds in the next month.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

This Blog is Metamorphosing...

I have always wanted my blog to have a cheesy pun for a name, as well as it's own registered domain.  I tried to get but it isn't available.  Zone 8 isn't a cheesy pun either.  I've also realized over the course of the couple years of doing this blog that I'm not interested exclusively in subtropical plants anymore, but much, much more.  Therefore, I am changing the name of my blog.  Say goodbye to Zone 8 and hello to (ta-da!) Growing Steady!  If you don't believe me, just look in the address bar of your web browser.

The name change will take a few weeks, since I am not yet finished with graphics for the title and the ever-important favicon.  If you link to my blog, it will automatically redirect to the right place so there's no need to change that.  You can if it will help you sleep better at night though.  Other than the name, things will remain about the same.  The name change is really a reflection of the blog as it is currently.  That's it for now.  Get out there and get some dirt under your fingernails before it rains!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tomatillo Time

With about a dozen ripe tomatillos, I decided to make some home grown salsa.  Every single ingredient came from the garden.

Ignore the peaches.  I was initially going to dice them up and put them in the salsa but decided against it after I tasted it and it was perfect as it was.

It was delicious with some freshly made tortilla chips and beef tacos.

Here is the recipe:

1 cup diced tomatillos
1/2 cup tomatoes (I used a combination of Sungold & Early Girl)
1/4 cup minced onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 oz. finely chopped fresh oregano (I used spicy oregano)
1/2 oz. finely chopped fresh thyme

Simply mix everything together and enjoy!

August Haiku

The sun's glowing rays


Solanum aviculare
Cynara cardunculus var. scolymusin (aka Artichoke) in full bloom

Shining through ocean breezes


The fish are always begging for food
Musa basjoo, approximately 20 feet tall now
Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' dwarfing Gunnera manicata

Splash colors freely