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  • Drought Tolerant Edible Garden

    April 22, 2014

    A majority of our gardening clients ask for drought tolerant edible gardens. Usually, they tack on a request for low maintenance as well. Achieving all three goals: low water needs, edible, and easy care doesn’t quite fall into lock-step with a traditional, seasonal vegetable garden filled with (say) tomatoes, spinach, and carrots.


    Dandelions are colorful, edible & low maintenance plants, but are they ideal for your garden aesthetic?

    While you could reach this trinity with a neglected yard lush with edible “weeds” like purslane and dandelion, your neighbors might not see the value as much as you do. Certainly, an herb garden might begin to fit this bill, but you would still need to provide supplemental water to get the garden growing, plus a few flavorful, woody herbal shrubs aren’t likely to truly fill your family’s belly. So, what’s the key to creating a beautiful garden that you can eat but don’t need to heavily water in a drought or fuss with every day?

    Enter noted plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson, author of several books including Trees of Seattle and Wild Plants of Seattle. Also, he is the author of over a hundred articles on weeds and the former curator of the Weed Garden at Seattle Tilth. In his own garden, he cultivates all sorts of fun plants — from natives to weeds to the rare and unusual. And, he’s tasted many of them and happily shares what he’s eaten. In one of his recent newsletters, he mentioned that many Sedums are edible; he knows because he has eaten them.

    Sedum Suaveole & Sedum album

    Sedum suaveole looks like a Sempervivum, but look at the flowers! (Shown with Sedum album).
    Image courtesy of Arthur Lee Jacobsen

    If you read this blog or have worked with Garden Mentors® on a garden design or consulting project, you know there are any number of hardy, beautiful, drought tolerant, perennial Sedums. These plants come in a range of colors and sizes, and their blooms are magnets for honeybees and other pollinators. And, the seed heads that remain into winter are food for foraging songbirds.

    Turns out, according to Arthur Lee in our recent email exchange, many are also food for our plates. He does warn that while, “Hundreds of Sedum species exist, I have tasted only dozens. Most are unpleasantly astringent, or even acrid.” But there are several he does favor including one of our favorites for the garden: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and a Great Plant Picks favorite Sedum ‘Sieboldii’. (more…)

  • Cabbage Butterfly Eggs: Squish’m Young!

    April 21, 2014

    Despite the fact that our cabbage patch is planted under a hoop house, we caught a sneaky cabbage butterfly laying her eggs on our greens recently. These ladies are sneaky. They will go so far as to land and walk under a tiny crack where hoop coverings meet soil to get in and give their babies a delicious birthing location.

    Cabbage Butterfly

    This white butterfly with two black dots on each wing is not a moth. She flies in the daylight, even in cool, damp weather, seeking out your cabbage patch where she will lay hungry cabbage butterfly eggs.

    Caught giving birth all over our cauliflowers, cabbages, and broccoli, she met her maker with a big ole squish.

    Then, it was time to flip over each leaf every day for a couple of days to flick off the eggs she had laid. Said eggs are really tiny, so it’s easy to miss them. Hence, checking every day for several days.

    Cabbage Butterfly Eggs

    The tiny yellow dots on the underside of brassica leaves are Cabbage Butterfly eggs. Carefully scrape them off the leaves as soon as you see them.

    If you miss squishing all the eggs, those little yellow flecks hatch fast into tiny yellow caterpillars that voraciously devour all things brassica (cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc…). And, as they eat, they quickly change from snot-yellow to bright green, which camouflages them among the plants they eat.

    Have a look at what you’ll see once those flecks of cabbage butterfly eggs grow into fast, green eating machines.

  • Zero Curb Appeal Garden

    April 18, 2014

    One thing every homeowner wants is a garden with curb appeal. One thing new builders create are yards with zero curb appeal. Maybe they don’t see the value in putting in a beautiful garden that will thrive in the space, or maybe they run out of money on construction, or maybe they just trust the cheapest sub’s out there to pick up whatever plants are on sale at their construction supply stop, and just plop things in. All of these things are likely given what we regularly see shoved into the ground around remodeled buildings and new construction — just before the house goes on the market. And once that house sells (and it will sell) the homeowners are stuck with a space that’s not likely to thrive — except for the weeds; those will definitely thrive here.


    This house near our HQ is a good example. Sure, it’s better than what used to be there: a crumbling shack where an old drunk died as his trick-turnin’, crack-sellin’ lady friend wheeled and dealed out the back. The construction company has kept up a “Built Green” sign over the months that they’ve been putting up the house (and demolishing a tree in the back and compacting the soil everywhere). Gotta say: the curb “garden” is not built very green.  And, it’s really ugly.

    Months ago, well before the house was anywhere near completion, they brought in a load of sod. It languished in the back of the property in a rotting pile for months. Then, when it was mostly dead, they squared it out on the hellstrip, which they had been driving over, parking on and otherwise destroying for months. Before they randomly squared together the mostly dead sod, the soil was given no preparation. This is what it looked like when it went in. (Looks like even Kula was disgusted by it.) Seriously, do these guys not get that the trend is less lawn: more food?

    Poor Installation of Lawn

    Pathetic, Mostly Dead, Installation of “Lawn” Offers Zero Curb Appeal

    (FYI: some of the grass bounced back, but it was so poorly installed that it’s a rolling, lumpy, bumpy mess with a checkerboard pattern because the seams of each piece of sod were weak. )

    The front yard is marching line soldiers of Heather. (Update: rough count: 81 Heathers!) Should all of these plants survive, which is unlikely, the front is going to be a giant wad of this plant, accentuated by spikes of Flax, which will also probably die come winter. And, don’t even get me started on the infestation of Ice Dancer Carex that’s going to happen where they’ve plugged in more marching soldier plants — complete with a military buzz cut. And, to top it all off, they threw in that builder special: a weeping tree, planted North of the house, where it won’t help cool things down. In this case, it’s a weeping Beech right out the front door — perfect for attracting sugar-dripping aphids and the stinging insects that eat them.

    Years ago I heard a saying: “A yard is where you put prisoners; a garden is where you want to live.” IMHO: this space is more the former than the latter — what do you think?

    Perhaps another perspective beyond the rant above is that this is just an opportunity for future improvement. Whoever buys this place is going to need help creating some real curb appeal — a real garden. Rather than this pretend xeriscape monoculture, this little plot is ideal for some front yard edibles, herbs, maybe a rebate-incentive program rain garden, or any number of other innovative garden options. It’s just a shame the “Built Green” builder didn’t figure that out in the first place.

  • Wrens in the Garden

    April 05, 2014

    I love snuggling up in a cozy chair by our picture window to watch wild birds like these wrens in the garden. When I first settled down with my weekend latte, a Red Flicker was pecking away at suet. Juncos were foraging below, and squirrels were quarreling with crows. Then, I noticed small, fluttering movements near one of our birdhouses — the birdhouse in which our adopted bumblebees came last spring.

    Nesting Wren in the Garden

    Nesting Wren in the Garden Checking Out the View from Their New Front Door

    A pair of wrens, Bewicks Wren (I believe), are nesting in that house. Right now!

    They live here year ’round. We’ve heard them called the “Seattle Wren”. And, we love them. These two and their brood will devour pest insects like leaf hoppers and aphids to keep our garden healthy all season long.

    Nesting Beckwick Wren

    Bewick Wren Bringing in Nesting Materials Foraged from the Garden

    Learn to attract birds like these beneficial songbirds to your garden. You might even try planting a seed to grow into a birdhouse for next season.

    And, that’s enough said. I’d rather go back to my cozy chair, latte, and view of the happy couple than write anything more.

    (Check back later. I’ll upload some video of their antics after I enjoy watching them live.)

  • Gardening Semi Permies in Action

    March 28, 2014

    In each space I’ve lived — city, farm, ranch, suburbia –  my family and I have continuously honed gardening methodologies that makes us what I’d call semi permies. And, our most recent garden renovation project might inspire you to aspire to the same.

    Natural forest world

    Spending time connecting closely with our natural world keeps me grounded as a semi permie!

    I’m not likening my methods to a semi-permanent hair solution that eventually washes out; my endeavors are more permanent, but not completely “permie“. By semi permie,  I mean I seek out ways to work with nature and with what we have on site first — but not always. I recycle, recapture, and reclaim what I can. I grow and build habitat to invite in wildlife. I host honeybees, mason bees, and I’ve even adopted unwanted bumblebees.  I seek ways to borrow or barter with friends and neighbors next. And, when necessary, I’ll purchase what I need to create and maintain a wonderful piece of planet as much in step with nature as I can manage, enjoy, and in some cases tolerate. It’s not the permaculture ideal, but it is the reality my family and I can live with.

    Free Nurselogs

    Nurselogs a neighbor was giving away curbside – a semi permie scavanger’s dream come true!

    Space, time, interest, passion, resources, and other factors have always played into how much (or how little) each of my gardens could self-sustain. I grew up looking to make use of what our land offered rather than buy in everything we needed — or thought we needed. But, I also grew up buying things.

    Arborist chips

    Arborist chips being created.

    I am thankful to live in a world where I can purchase rain barrels to collect water, a warm climate lime for my curry, and call an arborist to bring me chips s/he wants to recycle from another job site in the neighborhood. And, I can combine the function of these purchased or bartered goods to water my garden during drought, pluck cilantro from my greenhouse to finish that curry, and line my paths and replenish my beds with the chips my arborist offers up. Embracing this balanced urban approach is just how I roll.

    Front raised beds

    Front raised beds working hard to grow our food for over a decade

    When we moved into our home years ago, our first gardening project was digging out a section of lawn to install a couple of raised seasonal vegetable and perennial berry garden beds. We made several mistakes, but the area served us well until about a year ago. After almost 15 years, the cedar beds were finally rotting through. The pea gravel paths over landscape fabric were hideous. And, grass had invaded the berry bed, which housed wonderful blueberry shrubs and not-so-great-anymore strawberries. Sounds and looks (see below) like renovation time, right?

    Raised Beds Ready for Renovation

    Raised cedar beds desperate for renovation after putting in over 15 years of growing well for us.

    This area of the garden happens to get the last of the late evening sun. It’s not a big space, but we wanted to reclaim part of it as a sunset spot for a couple of chairs. You know — a wine sipping spot for two at the end of a long day. We also wanted to create a bit of buffer between the nearby sidewalk to the west — without blocking the sunlight. And, we wanted to be able to continue cultivating some edibles in this sunny garden pocket. But, because we know we may need to a big sewer excavation near this spot within the next couple years, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money making an enormous, costly change right now. In fact, the almond tree that will eventually live in this area is spending its first few years with us growing up in a pot.

    So, we put on our semi permie hats and set to change it up in a day. (more…)

  • Dispose of this Daphne

    March 25, 2014

    Did you know Daphne can be an awful weed?

    Most gardeners swoon at the mention of Daphne — despite the fact that many of the “evergreen” varieties defoliate every winter. Or, even worse, they just give up the ghost without warning or apparent reason. Still, I suggest Daphne to just about every client who has the right attitude and the right spot for their finicky needs.


    This is one of the desirable Daphnes – don’t dump this one!
    Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’ is semi-evergreen with variegated leaves & great spring fragrance.

    I just warn anyone who plants a Daphne not to beat themselves up too badly if they walk outside one day and find their special plant seems to have mysteriously croaked overnight. That’s the thing about these special lovelies — they can be unpredictable. But they’re worth it.

    Okay, so enough about how great Daphne can be…what about this idea that a Daphne might be a weed?

    Daphne laureola

    Daphne laureola – a true weed shrub – in bloom in early spring.

    There’s this one Daphne that’s spread itself far and wide in the Seattle area — Daphne laureola, which also goes by the names Spurge Daphne or Spurge Laurel. Yes, it’s a Daphne. Yes, it’s an evergreen, easy-care shrub. No, it does not smell good. And, yes, it is a weed. In fact, in King County, which includes Seattle, this sucker is a “Non-Regulated Class B Noxious Weed“. Essentially, that means it’s non-native, invasive, wide-spread, and landowners are encouraged to do everything they can to keep it from spreading more. In other Washington state counties, where this junky plant hasn’t established itself as well as it has in King County, it’s mandated that landowners remove it. But how and why? (more…)

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