Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Northwest Flower & Garden Show, Part 2: The Seminars

With 101 seminars over the course of the 5-day show, the abundance of horticultural information to be absorbed was certainly mind-numbing.  The show brings in experts from around the US who have their own specific area of horticultural expertise.  Below are some ideas from a few of the seminars I attended:

Up in the Air: Vertical Gardening Solutions
by Teresa O'Connor

Vertical gardening is an ancient phenomenon as old as the legend of the hanging gardens of Babylon.  Big or small, they can be installed on existing walls or fencing offering additional gardening space.  Frenchman Patrick Blanc is one of the worlds leading innovators in vertical gardening.

Combined with hydroponics, vertical gardening can be a means of growing food inside cities as is the case with Sky Greens in Singapore.  Or they can be used as a bioscreen as part of a process to recycle grey water back into drinking water.  This is exactly what happens at the Vertical Forest in Milan, Italy.

Ms. O'Connor's website is  Also check out and

by Lorene Edwards Forkner

Cool season crops like mache (Valerianella locusta), fava beans (Vicia faba), and Italian kale (Brassica oleracea 'Nero Di Toscana') do really well for maritime climate folk.  They have a lot of staying power in the garden because they like the cold and are harvest-ready throughout the winter.

Here's a fun & simple visual soil test: Fill a mason jar half full with soil, add water until 3/4 full, cover, shake it very well until evenly mixed, then let it sit still on the counter for two full days.  The sand is the heaviest and will sink to the bottom first, followed by the organic material or silt, and finally the small clay particles will slowly come to rest on the top.  You will have three distinct layers that will show you how much of each component is in your soil.

Ms. Forkner lives in West Seattle and is the editor of Pacific Horticulture magazine.  Her website is

Why Grow Divas When You Can Grow Pros?
by Andrew Keys

Mr. Keys is the author of Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? which offers better, usually lesser-known replacements to common problematic plants.  The Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) might do well in Colorado, but here in the NW a better choice would be the Blue Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo 'Glauca') because it will not become infested with aphids.

Toward the beginning of his talk he did an amusing comparison between plants and celebrities, advising that sometimes a perfect-looking rose you buy at the nursery will ultimately turn into a drug-addicted diva in the garden.  Then again, I heard Lindsay Lohan was getting better.  While some comparisons were a bit of a stretch (one of his recommendations was to grow a prickly pear instead of a peony), at the very least his replacement plants remind us to consider the potential problems those high-maintenance plants will likely incur.

Mr. Keys' website is

Turn Your Garden into a Wildlife Sanctuary
by Ciscoe Morris

One of the quintessential birds for much of the country is the hummingbird.  Their migration north happens at the same time the flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum) are blooming, and will often establish a home territory at this time and near this plant.

Ciscoe also mentioned that, in the event that you find yourself inundated with wildlife, you can officially register your garden as a certified wildlife habitat.

Ciscoe does a weekly radio show called Gardening With Ciscoe.  You can listen to it here on Saturdays from 10am-12pm (Pacific Time) or download the 97.3 Kiro app on your phone and listen to previously aired episodes.  His website is

City Slickers: Plants for Small Spaces and Urban Sites
by Richie Steffen

Every year at the Flower & Garden Show, an organization called Great Plant Picks comes out with a new list of plants that do well in the greater Seattle/Portland/Vancouver BC area.  The theme of this year's list is "Small Spaces, Big Impact" and focuses on small plants that grow well in crammed quarters.  Mr. Steffen discussed some of the Great Plant Pick plants:

Cornus ‘Eddie's White Wonder’ - Great small dogwood with early white flowers and nice fall foliage.
x Chitalpa tashkentensis - Deciduous tree with light pink flower spikes that resemble the shape of an orchid flower.
Acer tegmentosum (Snakebark maple) - Japanese maple with striped bark.  Does well in the shade.
Acer japonicum 'Shindeshojo' - New growth in the spring is an outlandish pink.
Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire' - Coral bark maple that retains bark color for 5-7 years.
Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea' - Yellow-leaved deciduous small tree.
Malus 'Adirondack' - Disease resistant crabapple.
Prunus laurocerasus 'Mount Vernon' - This is that dwarf English laurel that has been mass-planted along recent road construction projects which is a testament to its durability and well-mannered behavior.
Saxifraga 'Primuloides' - Evergreen groundcover that does surprisingly well in shade.
Anemone nemorosa - Spring ephemeral displaying white, pink, or purple flowers before dying back in summer.
Narcissus 'Thalia' - White is so much better than yellow.
Allium karataviense - Flowering onion with purplish-blue foliage.
Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation' - Reaches 3' tall and reliably returns year after year.
Lilium martagon - I need one of these.
Arisaema sikokianum - Early-blooming cobra lily.
Trillium sessile - Trillium with very cool mottled leaves.
Aster x frikartii - Long period of blue blooms into the fall.
Gentiana acaulis - The term "blue" is sometimes used very loosely when describing flowers, but this flower is blue man group blue.
Fothergilla gardenii - Fragrant white flowers in spring.
Daphne × transatlantica ‘Blafra’ ETERNAL FRAGRANCE - I haven't decided whether I should boycott patented plants or mass produce them and give them away for free.
Parthenocissus henryana - Shade vine with red fall color.


  1. I attended Andrew Keys seminar on Thursday, where he also presented the idea of opuntia as a substitute for a peony. I held my breath, expecting to hear murmurings of dissension from those around me, but there was none.

    Later, once the lights went up, the two older ladies setting next to me started to discuss some of his ideas. When one of them mentioned perhaps she would plant a few opuntia because after all those flowers were gorgeous and the plants themselves provided year round interest, well you could have pushed me over with a feather. How cool was that...and by what chance was I (PNW opuntia lover) seated next to them!? Of course I couldn't keep my mouth shut and had to jump in with encouraging words. Turns out the second was thinking about an agave in one of her big containers. Needless to say I was thrilled.

    1. They have seen the light! You know what? You should apply to do desert garden at the garden show next year...

    2. That could be very fun...but alas a garden designer I am not.

  2. Thanks for the summaries. I want to try some of the Great Plant Picks you mentioned.

  3. It's always good to see some attention given to those of us with small gardens. Sadly, Allium 'Purple Sensation' hasn't been terribly perennial for me...they seem to decline after a few years in my garden :-( Allium cristophii, however, not only returns, but multiplies!

  4. Mass produce them and give them away! Damn.. I like it.