• Foraging Toxic Plants

    October 16, 2015

    We get a lot of inquiries about toxic plants and other potential dangers in the garden. But, nothing has been as scary as the text we received earlier this week from one of our clients (paraphrasing):

    Do you know what these plants are? My friend’s kids ate/played ‘yummy tacos’ with them and now he’s puffy and uncomfortable.

    Spined succulent in NWFGS display garden

    Spined succulents are beautiful & drought-tolerant,
    but should we avoid them because they might impale us?

    Sounds like it was toxic taco Monday in that garden!

    Accompanying her question was a photo of Bergenia cordifolia (shown below). After doing a bit of research, we found that CalPoisons.org indicates this plant isn’t toxic to humans. And, some sites discussed how some of its parts are used in Ayurvedic medicine. And, other sites put it on the list of plants toxic to dogs.

    Bergenia in rockery

    Bergenia, also known as elephant ear or pig squeak, is a common, if not very pretty, rockery plant in the PacNW.  Slugs & weevils love it. But, it’s also tough-as-nails & blooms in winter!

    So, at what point do we decide to cross a plant off our design list for toxicity? It isn’t uncommon for clients to request “no dangerous or toxic plants” in their design, but at what point does a plant get cut because it’s a hazard?

    Consider this: One of my best friends went on a road trip through the southwest. When she returned home, she said she was surprised the trip didn’t kill her dog. That puppy got all sorts of spines and needles up her nose while sniffing around, and my friend even impaled her calf with some sort of hard spined plant as she took a photo of the landscape. The needle went in one side of her calf and out the other — thank goodness it wasn’t coated in poison!

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    So, does a mechanical issue like spines make a plant risky enough to omit? But in which gardens? Does the potential that a kid might make and serve Bergenia tacos to his dog mean that plant should be off the list? And, what about wild things like mushrooms that pop up overnight out of mulch – how do you plan for that? (more…)

  • Beat Cancer! Buy the Garden Book

    October 09, 2015

    You want to beat cancer, right? Of course you do. We all do.

    In an effort to help defeat this illness for good, Garden Mentors is joining our dear friend, accomplished author and cancer survivor Jenny Peterson in putting a beat-down on cancer through donations. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October 2015) Jenny will be donating 20% of all pre-sales of her forthcoming new book The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion to metastatic breast cancer research. Adding to that, Garden Mentors will donate 100% of any profits we earn on purchases of this book made through our Amazon Affiliate store this month, October 2015, to the same cause. Plus, we’ll match these affiliate purchase profit donations (up to $200). So click the image below and buy the book already!

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us, and in this case, a very good cause.)

    The book doesn’t come out until early January 2016, but you can place a pre-order today, and we’ll turn the earnings we make from your purchase through our store into a cancer defeating tool once the book ships. Plus, we’ll double the first $200 of donations your purchases create through our store!

    “…don’t let your ‘new normal’ keep you from the garden!…sometimes your season in life — cancer treatment, for example — is your time to dig your roots in deeper. The flowers will come again later.” – Jenny Peterson

    Jenny Peterson in Garden by Kylee Baumle

    Cancer survivor & author Jenny Peterson in the garden. (Photo credit: Kylee Baumle)

    Still not sold? Recently, I asked Jenny a few questions about why she wrote this book, some of the challenges she overcame (and continues to work on) as a gardener and cancer survivor, how this book will help new and veteran gardeners facing cancer-related challenges and more.  – Robin

    “I really believe in the power of the garden, plants, and the act of gardening to be healing and balancing, so I hope I can get this book into the hands of as many people as possible who might benefit from it. Thank you for helping me do this!” – Jenny Peterson, author The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion

    Robin: Many I’ve known who have been through cancer treatment have found that some body parts never quite get back to 100%. For instance, even some of the toughest chicks I know can no longer lift the way they used to, following surgeries. Does your book offer workaround solutions to those who aren’t necessarily new to gardening but need to learn new ways to work with their new physical limitations?

    Jenny: YES! That was one of the first things I tackled. My own body, for example — I have nerve damage in my feet from chemotherapy, range of motion issues with my left arm from surgery, and lymphedema in the same arm (also from surgery). This means (more…)

  • Drought Tolerant Rock Star Plants

    October 02, 2015

    Need drought tolerant plant ideas for your PacNW garden?

    drought tolerant garden

    Combine Carex testacea & Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ into your thirsty garden.

    As our climate continues to change, bringing longer, hotter, drier summers, it’s evermore important to select garden plants that not only tolerate hot and dry, but also thrive and perhaps offer us some respite from the broiling sun. The 2015 summer in Seattle was a perfect time to push the limits on plants to determine which can take the heat and which need the most supplemental water to survive when the ground is parched and the sun just won’t stop.

    Following are a few rock star plants that shined the brightest this summer: A tree, a shrub, a grass(like), a ground cover and a perennial. And, yes, they all look great together!

    Acer griseum: This tough-as-nails little maple has consistently been one of our top tree choices. We’ve known it can thrive in direct sunlight. It even does well in urban settings where extra heat builds and reflects onto it from sidewalks and street asphalt. Plus, it looks fantastic all year long.

    blooming Acer griseum

    Not only can Acer griseum withstand reflected heat, but it thrives in it.
    Plus, these blooms feed bees & hummingbirds in spring.

    This year we watched ours closely for watering needs and found they didn’t require watering at all. Not one watering! Even as succulent Sedum groundcovers below them shriveled into mid-summer dormancy, these trees didn’t need to be watered at all. Now, keep in mind, they’ve been in the ground for almost a decade and were well watered in infancy to ensure they’d root. But, we’ve hardly watered them in years. If you add them to your garden, be sure to keep them watered sufficiently until yours are fully established. Then, you’ll have a low-maintenance, easy-care, gorgeous small tree whose shade may help take care of you in the long, hot summers ahead.

    Physocarpus ‘Diablo’: The cultivar name of this ninebark hints at its ability to love the heat, and indeed it does. If you’re looking for a large, deciduous, sun-loving shrub with four seasons of interest, this beauty may be perfect.

    blooming Physocarpus

    Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ is a non-stop devil of a plant that thrives in hellacious heat.

    In fact, you almost can’t kill this thing. We love to use late winter tree trimmings for pea and bean towers, but we’ll never use this devil’s spawn that way again. Seriously, shove a stick from this in the soil, and it will sprout. And, if you’re trying to use it as a pea trellis, well, don’t. It’ll suck the life out of any seedling struggling to get a start near this powerhouse. If you add this shrub to your garden, watering it while young may not be critical, but watering while young is the insurance policy you’ll buy to guarantee a long-lived shrub with lots of drought tolerant year ’round interest in the hot, dry future.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Carex testacea: Love the look of landscape grasses? Try this sedge (shown above) instead. It’s (more…)

  • Fall Pruning Tips

    September 25, 2015

    Have you been duped into believing fall pruning is ideal? Surprise! Fall is one of the worst times to prune. Or at least, it’s the worst time to prune most woody plants. There’s plenty of other cutting and cleaning work to do instead.

    Boxwood: not for fall pruning

    Think fall’s the best time to tidy up your hedges for winter? Think again!

    Put down your saw this time of year and spend this time weeding, raking, mulching and cutting back perennials ready to hunker underground for the cold months ahead.

    Why not cut woody plants now? Making cuts on plants does a number of things to their growth systems. Trimming can stimulate new growth, and new growth is tender. If a cold snap hits, which can happen unexpectedly and fast anytime in fall, any tender new shoots can be damaged, weakening your plant and making it look awful. That being said, if your shrubs have been neglected for a long time and are full of dead material, go ahead and snap the dead stuff out. Just don’t start sawing on living limbs at this time of year.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Once your trees and shrubs have lost their leaves and have been standing bare for at least a couple of weeks, that’s the time to begin many woody pruning jobs.

    Buddha statue among fallen autumn leaves

    Prune woody plants after plants have been bare for a few weeks.

    Have happy hedges! You know those hedges that look raggedly and full of holes all winter. Maybe they die out in spots as winter trudges by? Most likely they were cut hard in autumn. Instead, save shearing work for late winter, early spring or even mid-summer. Trimming hedges just ahead of the spring growth surge ensures they’ll flush out with lush, privacy-providing new growth fast; trimmed in mid-summer, they’ll put on a little regrowth with time for it to toughen up for the cold season and look tidy as well.

    Wait! What about winter bloomers? Prune these only as they’re blooming or shortly after. If you trim a winter-flowering hedge or shrub after early spring, you’ll cut off all it’s flower buds for the winter to come!

    Snow on blooming witch hazel

    Prune winter bloomers like witch hazel as they’re blooming or right after to maximize your blooms the following year. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy them in indoor, winter bouquets. Take care if you cut during winter freezes. It’s easy to break frozen branches.

    If not trees and shrubs, What should you be cutting in fall? (more…)

  • Tomato Paste Replaced

    September 18, 2015
    The concentrated rich flavor of tomato paste imparts an intense, hearty flavor to many dishes. But how often have you opened a can and only needed a tablespoon of paste from it?

    Homemade Tomato Paste

    Rich, thick, delicious tomato paste is easy to whip up into small, as-needed batches.

    Quit buying those cans. Skip cooking and canning a big batch of paste. Instead, whip up only as much as you need, one recipe at a time, from versatile dried tomatoes in your pantry – it’s fast, simple and really tasty!

    Dried tomatoes instead of paste

    Fill your pantry with dried tomatoes from your garden at the height of freshness!

    Once your pantry is stocked with dried tomatoes, whip up our tastier-than-tomato-paste puree to add to dishes like stroganoff, soups, marinara, gravy, curries, stews or any other dish that needs an injection of rich tomato flavor.
    Dried Tomato Paste PureePrint Print

    4-6 dried tomato halves*
    1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth (or water + 1/4 t sea salt)

    *If you are using unseasoned dried tomatoes, add 1/8 t dried thyme and 1/2 T olive oil

    Pour broth or water plus salt into a microwave safe measuring cup. Heat about 1-2 minutes or until the liquid boils.

    Dried tomatoes soaking in broth for tomato paste recipe

    Soak just a few dried tomatoes in broth or salted water to make up the perfect amount of tomato paste for your recipe every time. A little of this goes a long way!

    Add dried tomatoes to the hot broth, pressing down with a spoon and stirring until the tomatoes sink into the liquid. Set aside for at least 20 minutes to allow the tomatoes to rehydrate; they won’t absorb all of the liquid.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Once the tomatoes are soft, pour the tomatoes and liquid into a blender. (At this point the liquid should be cool, but if it isn’t take care when you turn on the blender, starting at the lowest setting to avoid any steamy, hot explosions of red goop everywhere.) Cap the blender pitcher tightly and begin pureeing the mixture, starting at a low setting and eventually working to a high setting. Within a few minutes you should have a nicely whipped, rich tomato blend. It may be a little runnier than the stuff you’re used to buying in the can, but it will be intensely flavored (and full of your own garden goodness!)

    Using a spoon or spatula, scoop the mixture from the blender and add to your recipe as you would tomato paste, adjusting the amount based on how much tomato-y flavor you want.

    (This makes about a 1/4 cup of paste. If you want less or more paste for your recipe, adjust the number of tomatoes and amount of broth relative to your needs.)

    If you accidentally make more than you need, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and drop your DIY paste in 1 T. globs onto the lined sheet. Place in freezer until solid. Then, drop your chunks into a freezer-safe container to store for next time.
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