April 01, 2016
This week a very serious affliction, spring fever, spread through PacNW offices like wildfire. No joke.
Our long lost friend, that fiery yellow orb named Sun, reappeared in crystal-blue skies following a winter sulking behind dense clouds, where it had endured a winter of solitary cosmic cabin fever. Cheering Sun‘s return, cherries, pears, currants and maples burst into bloom and leaf. Perennials shot through the soil, rising several inches each day toward Sun‘s warm embrace.
Bees are buzzing. Frogs are ribbeting. Birds are singing their songs of sex and love from pre-dawn hours until well past sunset. And, under Sun‘s rays, the air is warm — almost hot — chilled only when a remnant of winter’s chill blows by or a wispy cloud briefly obscures that golden ball in the sky. All of this spreads spring fever fast.
Spring fever symptoms may include:
- Inability to sit at a desk during daylight hours
- Desire to touch the earth
- Desperate digging through closets and handbags for last season’s hats, sunglasses & sandals
If you have any of these symptoms, gardening is, of course, a great way to find relief. And if that doesn’t do it, sometimes giving in during the day and playing hooky works for us. (We do not recommend hooky if it’ll get you in trouble at school, home or fired from a job. We do recommend businesses, families and schools recognize and embrace the concept of getting people out in nature as a means of learning, growing and healing.)
Earlier this week, after working at our desks from before sunup, we took off for a hike in nearby Skagit Valley for some much needed spring fever relief where we were rejuvenated by connecting with spring’s beautiful, healing renewal.
Did the hike eradicate our spring fever? Maybe for the moment. Fortunately, nature will always welcome us back for another shot of healing goodness.
March 25, 2016
One of our favorite vines for PacNW gardens is Akebia quinata, also commonly known as the chocolate vine or vanilla vine. This beautiful, hardy plant won’t serve up your favorite ice cream flavors, but does provide solutions to a number of garden challenges. Plus, when it blooms, it fills the garden with tasty scents — more like nutmeg than chocolate or vanilla to our olfactory senses, but hey, that’s sweet too! And, it might just offer up some sugary-sweet fruit as well.
This plant is a great climber for sunny or shady spots. Not only will it tolerate shade, but it will bloom beautifully in even darker garden corners. For your darkest nooks, Akebia ‘Alba’ might be your better choice as the lemony-white blooms will help brighten things up.
This vine is (mostly) evergreen in the PacNW. If you’re relying on it for privacy, be forewarned that cold snaps can defoliate it — partially or even completely — in winter. And, if the cold snap hits in late winter/early spring, it may put a damper on the blooms that break forth as early as February. But, it’s tough to keep a good vine down! Even if the cold knocks it back, it’s unlikely an established plant will completely die off. Most just lose a few buds and bounce back fast.
Akebia climbs by twining, so except for training, you probably won’t need to tie it to your climbing structure. Those succulent, winding stems will later take a woody form that fattens up into stiff, hard stems and trunks — like a shrub or tree. And, they will wrap around themselves and anything else they encounter, so plan to prune it regularly, and be on the lookout for tendrils making their way into nearby trees.
Cut those babies out while they’re young and small, or you’ll be in for a tough job with a saw. If vines form into dense thickets when interior stems are overgrown by new growth, songbirds may use those spots for cover or nesting locations. Larger birds, like crows, may harvest older dead wood to use in their nests.
And, while it won’t taste like a vanilla shake or chocolate cake, Akebia does sometimes produce an edible fruit. Fruit is formed on the female flowers of the purple Akebia quinata. The white Akebia, however, is more likely to be sterile. So, if eating sugary-sweet, gelatinous fruit wrapped in a casing reminiscent of a hard sunglasses case isn’t your thing, plant Akebia quinata ‘Alba’ instead of the purple. That being said, in the decade we’ve grown Akebia, our voracious vine has only produced fruit once, and the squirrels ate most of it.
March 18, 2016
Wind tree damage is everywhere in Seattle right now. Last weekend, following drenching downpours to our already saturated soils, we clocked 60+mph winds that tore through town like a vengeance.
Soggy soils + wind = danger!
If you have trees in your garden, consider this your reminder to look up into them for broken branches that become dangerous flying spears in heavy winds. And, look down at the root zone for signs of weakness. And, if you’re in doubt about your ability to recognize potential problems, get in touch with us or hire a certified arborist near you for help.
Nobody can promise you’ll never have a problem with trees in wind, but waiting to make a call when the winds are roaring through the walls of your neighbor’s living room after the top of your pine tree flies half a block and through their roof, well, nobody wants to make those calls. (And, yes, one of my co-horts got this call after her client went through almost exactly this scenario last week in the wind.)
So, what can you look for yourself?
March 11, 2016
Nipping or rolling buds is a great spring pruning trick!
As winter thaws into spring, so too do tight, dormant plant buds begin to melt away, allowing tender young growth to emerge. When plants are in this fragile state, it can be tough to prune them without damaging them as well. For instance, if you want to remove some interior branches of a tree, but you can’t reach those branches without rubbing against the tender buds of desirable outer growth, you’ll find yourself wishing you’d finished your cuts before the delicate growth began at winter’s end. And, at this point, it might make sense to hold off on cutting that interior branch until new growth toughens up later in the season.
But, this is the time to roll out buds to make your pruning chores easier, your plants look better and make it easier for your plants to recover from losing what you nip away.
Nipping or rolling buds is a pretty simple concept. Essentially, you use your fingers to easily pinch, nip or roll out sprouts that emerge in spots where you know you don’t want a branch to form. This pruning technique only works on young, tender growth. Once the growth begins to toughen up later in spring, you’ll need your sharp pruning tools to remove these branches without ripping, tearing and damaging your plant.
Understanding which buds to remove this way is, like all pruning, a bit science and a bit art as the following images illustrate. Trees like this crab apple, flowering plums, Heptacodium, Physocarpus and many others are notorious for busting loose in all kinds of undesirable ways in spring. Fortunately, this simple pruning method will make your gardening chores much easier!
Always remember: if in doubt: don’t cut it out! Once you remove a bud or a branch, you can’t put it back on your tree. So, if you’re stumped, contact us for help before you start nipping and cutting.
March 04, 2016
As soon as the calendar tuns to the new year, gardeners dig into plans for their annual food gardens. They sow seeds indoors under lights well before spring and begin sowing hardier cool season crops outdoors — under protection or not — by early February. And, the sowing and plant coddling continues, daily, for most of the year to come.
For intensive food gardeners, this repetitive practice is a labor of love. But the repetition of sow-reap-winter-repeat year after year can become more burdensome than rewarding. Sure, you get to harvest tasty tomatoes in summer, but if you prefer to spend your summer days hiking and shopping rather than monitoring delicate crops everyday, annual edible gardening may not be right for you.
But, you can still grow food gardens!
What so many new gardeners don’t realize and many veteran gardeners may forget is that perennial food crops are so much easier than annual vegetable gardens and they’re generous year-after-year. Perennial food gardens consist of plants that live for many years and yield something good to eat. Some may be herbaceous, meaning their top growth withers for winter. Some may be woody and deciduous, meaning they have sturdy stems but lose their leaves for winter. And, others may be evergreen, meaning they look great all year long. Plus, because these plants become acclimated to the garden, they tend to need less water than thirsty annuals – just be sure to water them well for at least the first three years like you would other perennial plants.
Edible flowering perennials: Daylilies are tough-as-nails perennials that look gorgeous. Plus, if you can bring yourself to pluck the blooms, they taste great too. (Just be sure the lilies you’re eating are true Hemerocallis. Other lilies may be toxic.) Perennial nasturtium, mashua, has edible flowers, leaves and a peppery tasting tuber too. (Just be sure to leave some tubers in the ground so your plants can regrow.) Perennial sunflower, sunchokes, have tasty tubers, and like with mashua, leave some tubers in the soil so they regrow, but realize they may also fall into the next category…
Perennial food weeds: Rather than bemoan the weeds that you likely battle, take a different perspective on what it means to have nettles, blackberry and dandelion in your garden. Sure, you might not choose to plant them, but if you have’m, eat’m!
Groundcovers for foodies: Thyme is simply a must-have in any garden with decent sunlight; this evergreen spreader is a fantastic flavoring too. Sedum may be an acquired taste in the kitchen, but it’s another drought-tolerant spreader. (Before you take a bite, confirm the sedum you choose is a known edible variety.) Strawberry and lingonberry both hug tightly to the ground, remaining mostly evergreen in winter; come summer, both burst forth with sweet, red morsels.
Snackable shrubs: Blueberries and huckleberries are obvious choices. But, don’t forget that drought-hardy woody herbs like rosemary, sage and lavender are also edible, plus they look and smell great in winter too.
Tasty tree treats: You may not want to plant a fruit-bearing tree right over your patio. Nobody wants to get knocked on the noggin by a heavy, ripe fruit. That being said, there are many mini-dwarf cultivars of apples, pears and other fruit trees that look great in pots on your deck. If you have room for an orchard, add in fig, citrus, bay leaf, sterile mulberry, almond, hazelnut, walnut or other size and climate-appropriate options.
Lovely leaves: Plant come-again asparagus sooner rather than later. Its beautiful, fern-y texture is a gorgeous garden addition. And, thank goodness for that because you really shouldn’t harvest it until it has been growing for at least three years. And, find a spot for rhubarb. Even if you don’t care for the sour taste of “pie plant,” this plant’s large leaves and raspberry-red stems add incredible interest to your garden year after year. Plus, some neighbor will gladly take your harvest off your hands.
Vines taste fine: Grapes readily take over an arbor and drip with sugary goodness year-after-year. Plus, their leaves are edible too! While fuzzy kiwi may quickly eat your world, hardy kiwi plays much more nicely with others and can be self-fertile. In warmer locations, passion vines produce passion fruit – just be sure to plant a fruiting variety. If beer’s your thing and you have lots of room, hops may make you happy. (It’s a sharp one, so plant with care.)
There are many other edible perennial plants for your garden. Need help planning what’s right for you location? Contact us today!