Thursday, August 20, 2015

Apparently we can grow watermelons!

If you live in Miami, Los Angeles, or Phoenix, you probably don't care that us Seattle folk just celebrated our 13,232nd minute of 80° (26.6°C) temps or higher this summer.  Well it's a big deal to us and this being our hottest summer ever in the Pacific Northwest, I can finally say that I have successfully grown watermelons:

Watermelon 'Sunshine'
The watermelon vines love basking up the heat stored in the rocks I made for them.
And cantaloupes and eggplants too:

Cantaloupe 'Sarah's Choice' & Eggplant "Little Fingers'
This is a practically instant castor bean forest.  There will be plenty of seeds to share!

Ricinus communis 'Carmencita'

I was floored to see Gloriosa rothschildiana come back to life.  It didn't pop up out of the ground until mid-June but it has been making up for lost time, completely devouring this magnolia tree.

Gloriosa rothschildiana
Another unlikely survivor is this Alocasia.  It was planted in the ground last summer and left for dead when winter came.  It obviously thought differently.

Alocasia (unknown species)
Our peach tree has produced about 80 pounds of peaches - the most ever.  This one is a cultivar named 'Frost' which doesn't have the most spectacular taste but makes up for it by being resistant to peach leaf curl.

Peach 'Frost'
We're lucky to see crape myrtles bloom in September around here in a normal year but this year they're a month ahead of schedule.

Unknown crape myrtle & Rose 'Just Joey'
As are the grapes.

'Lakemont' seedless grape

I guess it's a good sign if the fish are always begging for food.

Thanks for reading!  I'll do my best to not go more than three months before the next post.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rock On!

Real is pretty much always better than fake, but when it comes to rocks, there's just something about an artificial rock that I find fascinating.  Armed with some mortar mix and a few how-to videos off YouTube, I set out to create a few of my own.

Here is the before shot:

Step 1: I planned to create five rocks total, and wanted a nice balance of tall and short.  So I bent 3/8" thick rebar with my foot into the shape I wanted and wrapped some 1/4" hardware cloth around the rebar skeleton.  I secured the hardware cloth to the rebar with wire in as many places as I could to help rigidify the hardware cloth.

Step 2: There are a few keys to getting a fake rock to look like the real thing.  The first is the shape.  Rocks are usually very angular.  Maybe it broke off from a bigger piece of rock and has slowly eroded over time to round off its corners.  Whatever its story might be, it has to look like it has been sitting around for at least a few thousand years.

Step 3: I experimented with different mortar mixes.  This mixture in the photo below is a 3:2 mix of Portland cement to Lane Mountain sand.  It hardened into a very dense material that was completely smooth and rock-like.

Step 4: I wanted the rocks to be orange, brown, and grey in order to match the brick pathway surrounding them.  I knew it was important to vary the color of each rock while maintaining a cohesive palate.  In each batch of mortar mix I made, I put in different amounts of color so that no two batches would be exactly the same.  This is still the first coat (aka "scratch coat") but some of it is going to show through.

Step 5: Most of the rocks I made are hollow, but I found a great way to hide the scraps of paver stones left over from making the pathway.  No one will ever know!

Step 6: After allowing the scratch coat to dry, I applied the second and final coat.  Then I took some crumpled up aluminum foil and pressed it against the surface of the rock to texturize it.  I let it dry for a few hours until the cement had the consistency of packed sand, and then took a paintbrush and brushed over the entire rock.  At this point the cement is at the perfect stage for making cracks, dents, and crevices and then eroding it away with the paintbrush.  Basically it's just a matter of messing with it until it looks like a real rock.

Here is the final picture before I started getting carried away adding plants:

And now these heat-loving plants have a new little slice of paradise to call home.

So now you want to create your own rock, right?  Let me know how it goes!  The total cost was around $200, or about $40 per rock.  Definitely cheaper than buying a real rock - which would also include renting a backhoe to move it into position.  The time it took was around 15 hours total or 3 hours per rock.  I am sure if I were to do this again I could do it in 10 hours now that I know what I am doing.

Here are the materials I used:

- Wheelbarrow for mixing
- Rubber gloves (wet cement is caustic)
- Shovel for mixing
- Small bucket to hold mortar mix when applying it
- Triangular trowel to apply the mortar mix to the hardware fabric
- Aluminum foil
- Paint brushes with different sizes and thicknesses

- 4'x3/8" rebar poles
- 1/4" hardware fabric
- Mortar mix
- Water
- Cement color

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The 2015 Northwest Flower & Garden Show

The timing of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in mid-February coincides perfectly with the capitulation of winter.  The endless arrays of flowers are always a sight to see, but the richness of the show for me is in its fresh ideas.

West Seattle Nursery repurposed left over Christmas trees by slicing up their trunks and drilling holes to create mason bee huts.

If you look closely, just about everything was made from sliced up Christmas trees.  This dwarf peach is awesome.

I have a thing for hardy palm trees, unfortunately these were a little out of my price range.

Riz Reye's display on the skybridge was probably the only display in the entire show that was completely practical.

Just add dressing!

Most things were not so practical.

Wouldn't it be awesome if the moon was really that big?

This Chinese art dealer had some really interesting stuff at pretty reasonable prices.

I would have bought this if I didn't already have 4,000 other half-hardy cacti in pots that need to be brought in during the winter.

Euphorbia grandicornis 
Finally perhaps this is a bit of a rorschach test - what's the first thing you think of when you see these glass art figures?  If you see sarracenias and podophyllums, you're probably a true plant geek.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Mad Propagationist, Part 1

Before the discovery of heat mats, the gardening year for me would end in October and start up again in March.  The only horticulturally stimulating thing that ever really happened during winter was venturing outside during the occasional arctic blast to wrap Christmas lights and blankets around some of the more subtropical plants (not fun).

Now that I'm armed with a greenhouse and a propagation station in the garage, the gardening year never ends.

The propagation station
To create my pocket-sized propagation paradise, I put a 48"x20.5" heat mat from Home Depot on the workbench in the garage and hung two fluorescent light fixtures 24" above the mat.  Each fixture has four light tubes producing 2600 lumens of light for a grand total of 20,800 lumens.  I have the lights on a timer so they are on for exactly 12 hours a day.  I also have the heat mat plugged in to an ordinary lamp dimmer so I can adjust the temperature as needed.

The great thing about having this station in the garage as opposed to a greenhouse is slugs & bugs can't find it.  It is also very helpful in rooting cuttings and starting seedlings because the air temperature is in the 45-60 degree range while the root temperature is in the 60-75 degree range.  Because the root temperature is about 10-20 degrees warmer than the air temperature, the plants focus on developing strong root systems and don't get too tall or floppy.  Let's take a look at what I have growing here at the moment:

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' pups resprouting from the base
Rooted leaf cutting of an unknown begonia (From Steve Hootman at the RSBG), rooted Fuchsia 'Hawkshead' cutting, and a Beschorneria yuccoides seedling
Bulbules & roots forming on the leaf of Eucomis 'Rhode Island Red'
Learning how to propagate plants is really all about failing upward.  This sweet bay cutting was taken way back in September 2013 (15 months ago) yet has still refused to root!  Four out of the 30 or so cuttings that I originally took are still alive after going 15 months without having any roots whatsoever (most of the others rooted within a few months).  This one even produced four new leaves in the meantime.  Plants are amazing.

A stubborn Laurus nobilis cutting
I have also taken some hardwood cuttings outside.  Here, are Deutzia 'Pink-A-Boo' branches that are about to be mostly buried in a pot of peat moss, left and forgotten about for three months, and then hopefully rooted to become new clones of the original.  I've also taken some hardwood cuttings from willow, grape, and fig branches.

Deutzia 'Pink-A-Boo' branches
Plant propagation takes a lot of patience and diligence but is at the same time endlessly rewarding even for the average gardener who isn't interested starting their own nursery.  Stay tuned to see what else is being replicated in the greenhouse...