August 04, 2012
First off: Thanks Valerie Easton for contacting me for your article on garden coaching tips and tricks! It’s an honor to be featured in your column. This week’s feature: Robin Haglund has the A’s for your Q’s.
The day Valerie contacted me, I was visiting Lexington, Virginia with family — on vacation. Fortunately, I had left the internet-free & phone-free countryside long enough to get her email saying she wanted to chat asap. We managed to connect while I sat in a shady park to escape the blistering heat on that May Virginia day.
We chatted for a long while during which time she gave me one very valuable piece of advice, paraphrasing here: “Soak up the heat. It’s still cold and wet in Seattle.” Not that I didn’t already know this, but it was a good reminder to take in the sun and swimming and fireflies while I could. It was still May, afterall. Summer didn’t really hit until today in Seattle — that would be August, folks!
If you’re here because you read Valerie’s article, thank you for coming. I hope there’s more information here that you find helpful, and if you’re still stumped, please get in touch for a garden coaching session so we can address your needs in your garden.
I need expand on one item Valerie mentioned in her article, because I’m a bit concerned it may be confusing.
The topic: as a rough rule of thumb, prune ornamental plants right after they finish flowering.
While I do share this idea in a number of situations, including the examples Valerie mentions in her article, I want to clarify that this isn’t always the ideal method of pruning. For instance, if you’re growing a plant from which you plan to harvest fruit, pruning it right after flowering will mean that you likely prune out your future fruit as well. Too, many plants are best to prune while they’re dormant…aka in winter, which is before spring, which may be when your plant flowers. And, your own plants may even have more complex requirements than this.
Oh, and yes, one more thing. I know there are those that will claim that broken egg shells don’t work to keep slugs at bay, but it works for me, so I offer it as an easy, sustainable, recycler’s solution. Try it. Worst case: a bit of slug damage and your soil gets an application of calcium, which it may very well need.
Rules, especially rough rules, are always made to be broken.
Thanks again Val! And, everyone, keep having fun in your garden!
February 20, 2012
If you haven’t started already, now’s the time to start your vegetable garden. It is also time to be wrapping up any dormant pruning of your edible trees, shrubs and vines. (Think: blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears & the like.)
Buds are beginning to swell and break open. Seeds – including self-seeded weeds – are beginning to emerge from the soil. Birds are beginning to migrate and nest. And, slowly but surely, days are getting longer. And when we’re really lucky, those days are even feeling slightly warmer than just a few weeks ago.
In my own garden, I began seeds for plants like cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, watercress, fava beans, snap peas, mizuna, beets and chard several weeks ago when we had that sunny run of 60F days. I have an unheated greenhouse where they germinated rapidly. In a few days, I’ll be moving several of these from overcrowded sterile mix containers to individual pots where they can grow on a bit more before moving to the garden.
As in years past, this past weekend, I even seeded a few warm season crops (think tomato) in the greenhouse. If they take off, bully for me. If they don’t, I can try again indoors under lights in a few weeks and still have plenty of time to bring them to fruition later this summer. (I also started carrots, chinese cabbage and some flower seeds this past weekend.)
So, if you’ve got onions to place, seeds to sow, soil to test, berries to prune or weeds to pull, there’s no time like this very moment to get out there and get started. Even if your soil is frozen, sowing seeds now indoors or in a protected outdoor spot, will mean your garden will be well on its way by the time the Spring thaw comes. Find ideas for inexpensive season extenders here.
Thinking you need help planning, designing or installing your garden? Pretty sure you need a lesson in how to prune those fruit trees, shrubs and canes properly so you don’t kill them in the process?
Don’t keep waiting. Get in touch now to get your project scheduled and your education underway. If you wait until Spring to reach out for help, you’ll be waiting much longer to get your garden growing!
December 14, 2011
Inherited a garden filled with prior inhabitants’ bizarre choices intact? Yeah, me too.
Our house is rapidly approaching its 1ooth birthday. Back in the day, they thought 12-18″ wide, straight-lined paths slammed within two feet of the house itself made sense. They don’t.
Rather than walk so close to the house that it feels as if the giant structure may bump into you, most homeowners with paths like this end up walking on adjacent lawns. It’s a personal space thing, I suppose. I got rid of that awful pathway years ago, replacing it with wider, meandering walkways made of permeable gravel and flagstone. Whew, much better. And, yeah, we got rid of all that lawn, too.
These brilliant designers also had a habit of building front garden retaining walls with a small, 8-12″ deep, planting beds at their foot. This creates a very difficult space to fill with the right plant. When we bought the house, our strip was filled with a toupee of lawn (h/t to my friend Cath for dubbing tiny, stupid lawns with the toupee appellation.). When we began eradicating lawn, this stuff had to go.
First, I filled the space with cheap primula. At the time, I thought colorful polka dots looked cute. They really didn’t, but what did I know?
Then, I tried dividing and transplanting mixed perennials in the space. That was a big fat failure. And, as the wall continued to age and my gardening skills grew, I resolved to grow something to hide the ugly concrete. The problem though: what’s evergreen, drought tolerant, dog-pee tolerant, cold tolerant, grows to 3′ tall and no wider than 1′. Answer: Not much.
First, I tried a hedge of Hebe buxifolia. I knew this lovely evergreen would tolerate the full sun and any drought. Plus, it blooms beautifully and withstands shearing. Unfortunately, every third plant would die each year (or a part of a plant would die from dog pee or weather or “just because”), and the hedge looked like plant mange had gone on the attack.
Then, knowing the plant could exceed my space parameters but also tolerate heavy pruning, I installed several inexpensive David Viburnum. With broad, evergreen leaves, this plant isn’t a good choice for shearing. Why? Slice a big leaf in half and it looks chopped up. (If you slice tiny leaves, it doesn’t show as readily.)
Fortunately, the Viburnum worked out fairly well. It took a few years to fill out the space, and then it began to overtake the adjoining sidewalk. But, with a good pruning at the right time of year, this hedge is in check. It requires very little supplemental watering in the dry season while tolerating hot, baking sun. And, it withstands winter just fine.
Here’s how and when we did the pruning:
- Timing: Prune the viburnum as it is blooming or right after. You may lose out on some of the pretty blue berries, but only where you cut. We pruned ours in late May. Do not do your pruning in fall.
- Tools for the job: Have a pair of bypass shears and folding handsaw for your plant cuts. A pair of loppers may come in handy for chopping up larger branches into the compost or yard waste container.
- How to cut: Remove all the dead material on the plant first. Then, work like a mechanic, removing lower, longer branches first — assuming you want your “hedge” to look taller rather than wider. Make your cuts at points where branches meet other branches. Or, if your goal is to get an otherwise bare area to fill out, make cuts just above a strong, sprouting bud; cut incorrectly, you may seriously damage your plant. And, do not remove more than 1/3 of the living material from each plant.
- How Often: How often you prune will come down to your plants’ needs. Our hedge was pruned in May 2010 and may require a small supplemental pruning by May 2012.
November 15, 2011
Want to put late season lavender cuttings to good use without having to sew a stitch or cut down your flowers before the bees enjoy them?
Sure, sachets for the drier or sock drawer sound wonderful & who doesn’t love an eye pillow? But, honestly, I’m not the gal to stitch those up. I can barely sew a button back on a shirt.
Instead, I’ve got a lazybones way to add calming lavender fragrance to your home while you’re doing a chore that’s gotta be done anyway.
And, honestly, here’s the thing: If you’ve got dogs, your vacuum cleaner and rugs may eventually begin to smell rather canine over the years — even if you clean them and change filters regularly. Mitigating that not-so-alluring aroma is easy and only requires the use of yard clippings you might otherwise throw in the compost.
I prefer to let my lavender shrub go through a full bloom rather than snip out the beautiful, purple flower heads before the bees can get to them. The only problem with this: once the bees get to them and the flowers are pollinated, they aren’t great to dry and display. The flowers switch to thicker seed heads that do dry, but crumble readily. But, the bees get fed so the honey gets made, and those shrubs are gorgeous for a very long time. But, after the bees are done and flowers begin to fade, the fragrance remains intact for months. And, to keep the plants from rotting beneath heavy, overwintered seed heads, it’s important to shear out the spent flowers from the plants. But tossing them in the compost is just a shame!
Instead, do the flower stalk shearing on a dry day when the cuttings themselves are dry. Do not cut hard into the wood of the lavender; only shear off the flower stalks themselves, making your cut just above the first set of leaves at the base of the flower stalk. This will essentially have you only removing dead material from the plant and should not weaken the plant going into winter.
Then, gather up your bundle of crumbly lavender flowery-seed heads. Holding them upside down into a paper grocery bag, shake and beat the flower heads, and run your hands down the stems so that all the flower bits fall into the bag. Compost the stems, and keep the bagged flower bits in a cool, dark, dry place.
The night before or at least a few hours before you pull out the vacuum, sprinkle a few fistsful of your flowers all over the carpets. Walk over them and crush them to release their fragrance. Toss a fistful into your vacuum canister, and as it runs, more lavender aroma will be released as the machine runs, filling your home — even in mid-winter — with the unmistakable scent of summery lavender. Kinda makes me want to do some vacuuming right now, and I hate that chore!
Easy, right? And way better than a doggy-smelling house!
November 11, 2011
I drive past this scene several times of year when visiting one of my regular garden design and garden coaching clients.
No, this isn’t his garden. I don’t know whose garden it is.
Still, it is a lesson in what not to do in the garden.
First, if you’ve got a greenhouse you’re going to let go to waste, why not sell it or just give it away? This one has sat in the same place, basically untouched and definitely unused for as many years as I’ve driven by it.
Second, if you do have a greenhouse fading into oblivion, please don’t let it become an incubator for invasive weeds like the field bindweed (also known locally as morning glory), which is growing happily out the window-less window in this gunky old greenhouse.
Third, topping your trees like the one behind this greenhouse really isn’t pretty. And, it doesn’t do the trees any favors either. Butchering a tree like this only sets you up for a potential hazard, lots of on-going cutting of reaction growth, and a really ugly view. Either prune it properly, leave it alone or have it removed. Don’t just hack on it.
So one thing that looks decent here: the wood chip mulch. Sure, that happy bindweed will grow right through it, but if you’re not going to garden on your perfectly south-facing plot, go ahead and chip it with arborist chips. These will suppress (most) weeds, last a long time, and provide food to soil microbia.
And, yes, I probably should cut these folks some slack. I don’t know them. And, given the way their property looks, my guess is there’s an aging gardener living in that house. S/he probably wants to get out there and pull that bindweed. S/he might have loved using that greenhouse and swath of growing space in years past. S/he may no longer be able to manage the garden. So, in the interest of giving this homeowner the benefit of the doubt, I’ll just suggest this garden likely saw better days, and I’ll hope it will again someday soon.