Thursday, October 23, 2014

Garden “Bathing”

Nature is good for us. In Japan where more than half the population is stressed, they advocate a practice called Shinrin-yoku, translated as forest bathing. Developed in Japan during the 1980s it has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. If a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.* Paraphrasing John Muir: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” I’m taking a leap of faith that we experience similar physical, emotional and mental wellbeing benefits with a garden “bath.”

I had the pleasure recently of forest bathing at Lost Lake near Mt. Hood on a perfect early October day and felt the relaxing results for days. I also get a similar feeling of stillness and connectedness in my garden. If you don’t have a garden, take advantage of the many public gardens in Oregon (click here for a list).

Take a garden “bath.” Go into a garden. Walk slowly. Breathe deeply. Open all your senses. Ease into happiness. 

To learn more about “Forest Bathing” visit these sites: *,;; and

Monday, October 6, 2014

Species Tulips for Repeat Performance

Tulipa acuminata Photo:
Tulips probably originated thousands of years ago in the harsh growing conditions of a mountainous corridor that stretches along the 40th parallel north between Northern China and Southern Europe. Hybrid tulips usually receive all the attention and glory, but species tulips and their hybridized brethren typically offer more longevity in the garden.

Species tulips can be described as “the wildflowers of the tulip family.” Under favorable growing conditions, they will come back year after year and usually increase in numbers. They are smaller and considered less dramatic than the beautiful hybrids, but they also offer several advantages. Because they have short sturdy stems, they are less vulnerable to stormy spring weather. Additionally, it's like having two flowers in one. Their flowers usually remain closed through the morning or on cloudy days, showing off the outside color of the petals, and when warmed by the sun, they open to reveal their inside petal color.

In the maritime Pacific Northwest, late fall is the time to plant tulips. Because of their smaller size, you’ll want to plant more of them to create a visual impact. And like the larger tulips, plant them with perennials requiring the same growing conditions (sun, excellent drainage, no summer water) to cover dying foliage after the blooms are spent.
T. clusiana var. chrysantha Photo:

To get a glimpse of rare wild tulip species growing in their remote native habitats, explore, a site created by the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and the U.S. wholesale bulb seller Colorblends.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn, Oregon, sells a selection of species tulips via mail order.
T. praestans 'Unicum' Photo:

The National Gardening Association offers these tips to increase your success at perennializing tulips: 

When and where to plant. Plant tulips any time the soil six inches deep is 60° F or colder. As a general guide, plant in September or early October in USDA Climate Hardiness Zones 4 and 5; October to early November in zones 6 and 7; November to early December in zones 8 and 9; and late December to early January in zone 10. In zones 8 through 10, refrigerate tulip bulbs for six to eight weeks before planting. Place them in a paper bag away from ripening fruits (the fruits produce ethylene gas, which destroys the flower bud within the bulb).

How to plant. Tulips grow best in full sun in well-prepared soil with fast drainage. Avoid planting where water collects, or in locations that are prone to late frosts.

The rule is to plant tulips pointed end up and six inches deep, meaning four inches of soil above the top of the bulb. Plant a little deeper, to eight inches, if soil is light or sandy, or if pests such as voles are a problem. (Those two extra inches put them just out of reach of voles.) Deep planting also keeps the bulbs cooler, an advantage in mild-winter areas. Note: If you add mulch to the surface after planting, include its depth as a part of your overall planting depth. (For instance, five inches deep in soil plus three inches of mulch = eight inches deep.)

For an attractive flower display, plant five tulips per square foot, or 250 bulbs per 50 square feet. Space individual bulbs about five inches apart. When planting a grouping, take the extra care to plant at exactly the same depth; this ensures that they all will bloom at the same time. With a shovel, excavate soil to create a level planting base. Set bulbs into the bed, fertilize with a low-nitrogen granular fertilizer specially formulated for bulbs, and follow label directions about the amount to apply, and then cover with excavated soil. Fertilize each fall thereafter.

After planting, firm soil and water thoroughly. Water is especially important right after planting to ensure that the plants develop a strong root system before going into winter dormancy. Don't water again until leaves appear. In cold-winter areas (zones 3 through 6), apply straw mulch about a month after planting. This gives the bulbs time to begin growth before the soil freezes solidly. The mulch also protects the bulbs if snow cover is light or nonexistent. In mild-winter areas, mulch after planting to help keep soil as cool as possible for as long as possible.

In the spring, after the blossoms have passed their peak, clip off the flower heads and allow the green foliage to die back. This lets the plant put all its energy into building a strong bulb for the next season.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Playing with Pumpkins

Pumpkin topiary. Photo:
Fall has arrived. Even though it is the perfect time to add new plants and move around existing plants (both of which I need to do), a gardener can’t be blamed for wanting a little diversion and decorating for fall instead. Pumpkins are filling the garden centers and stores and they are just begging to be part of the outdoor d├ęcor.

The new guinea impatiens on my porch have been unceremoniously replaced with a pumpkin — or probably more correctly, squash — “topiary.” Other white, green and orange squash are now sprinkled about the approach to my front steps in anticipation of trick or treaters. In my search for ideas, I thought your fall decorating might be inspired by these project photos and videos. If you’re not up for doing a pumpkin project on your own, Cornell Farm is offering two Painted Pumpkin Workshops on Sunday, October 5 (the family-friendly version is offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the adult version, which includes beverages that might help your creativity, is offered from 3 - 5 p.m.). There is a fee to participate ($20 and $30 respectively for three pumpkins). Please call 503.292.9895 to reserve your space.

Hanging Pumpkin Planter: Owner Jon Karsseboom and his staff at The Garden Corner  are always thinking up creative ways to use plants and decorating for fall is no exception. In this video , Jon uses artificial pumpkins to create unique hanging planters. To my way of thinking, he’s creating little cathedrals for the plants. Consequently, I would shape the openings more like Gothic windows. If the inside of the pumpkin was painted with a glow-in-the-dark paint, I wonder if that would create interesting silhouettes at night …

Pumpkin Owl: I marvel at the creativity of some people. Add a few sunflower seeds with a glue gun to a pumpkin and what can you get? An adorable little (or big) owl! Check out the how-to video.

A Better Homes & Garden project: Metallic Pastel Pumpkins
Metallic Pastel Pumpkins: Shimmering pumpkins team up for an eerie evening. Use iridescent spray paint to cover light-color pumpkins (gray, tan, or white). While the paint is still wet, sprinkle the pumpkins with iridescent glitter.

Project: Better Homes & Gardens
Welcoming Pumpkin Wheelbarrow: Place an antique wheelbarrow or old wooden wagon near your door and fill it with a cheery mix of fall gourds, berry vines, and pumpkins. Then, use paint, permanent marker, or sticker letters to decorate the pumpkins with a friendly fall welcome.

Faux Bois pumpkin. Project: Martha Stewart Living
Faux Bois Pumpkin: The Martha Stewart Living creative crew gave this pumpkin a cool, unexpected twist. They used what they call a carve-by-color technique, which is scraping away the skin and sawing holes in strategic spots to create a pumpkin that looks richly textured and multi-tonal. The faux bois design is done freehand. Improvise to create much of the wood-grain pattern. They offer knot templates to help get you started. Scrape the design with a linoleum cutter and then make free-form lines to fill in the design. Make the eye of each knot by piercing the pumpkin wall with a ceramic hole cutter, apple corer, drill or knife.

Modern Swirly Pumpkin from

Modern Swirly Pumpkin: HGTV created this pumpkin with silicone and paint. Very elegant. Check out the how-to photos here.

Project from Better Homes & Gardens

Pumpkin Flames: Better Homes & Gardens came up with this idea and they provide a template for the flame design. Enlarge the flame-shape stencil to suit the sizes of your pumpkins. If you want every pumpkin to have a different look, use the stencil as inspiration for creating your own flame designs. Gut and carve pumpkins, leaving the stems in place. Create a log surround then stack the largest carved pumpkins on the bottom, and work your way up with progressively smaller specimens. Light real votive candles or flickering LED votives in the pumpkins to create the flicker of flames.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blue is Cool®

Baby Blue Spruce
Blue is the favorite color among men and women in the U.S. and Europe. It is associated with harmony and infinity. Blue grows well with just about every other color in the garden. It is a cool color that recedes, unless it has a silvery edge to it, in which case it sparkles in the garden and creates a focal point.

One of Oregon’s finest wholesale growers, A & R Spada Farms, started the Blue is Cool® campaign to promote various forms of blue-needled conifers. The impetus was a new introduction to the trade: Baby Blue™ Spruce (Picea pungens var. Baby Blue). The first photo is of the Baby Blue spruce; it was about two feet tall when the nursery gave it to the OAN three or four years ago. It hasn’t been pruned nor has it had any supplemental water, yet it has a perfect shape and looks great! Baby Blue spruce is notable because it is grown from seed, not grafted like most other blue conifers. Heavy bud formation on the leader results in very compact growth and the needles grow out evenly around the branches giving it a very full appearance.

Sticking with conifers for a moment, there are dozens of blue-needled conifers worthy of consideration for small and moderately sized gardens (many of which are deer resistant), including Cedrus atlantica ‘Horstmann’, which has a narrow upright habit and icy blue needles; Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’, low-growing and mounding; and Abies pinsapo ‘Glauca’ with its layered branches and stiff, intensely powder blue colored, short needles. To see more blue conifers, click here for Peace of Mind Nursery’s “Blues Garden” photo gallery.
Cedrus atlantica 'Horstmann' Photo: Monrovia

Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'
Abies pinsapo 'Glauca' Photo: Richie Steffen/Great Plant Picks
Pinus strobus 'Fastigiata' with blue needles and upright branching.
Pinus strobus x ayacahuite

Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ with its spikes of blue foliage (Sean Hogan, Cistus Nursery, used this plant in a rain water capture bio swale in a Portland commercial parking lot and it is thriving!), Agave, Dianthus, Euphorbia, and fescue grass also add blue points of interest in the garden. And we can’t forget all the beautiful blue-leaved hostas, the most diminutive of which may be ‘Blue Mouse Ears’.
Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies' is planted in a bio swale in a commercial parking lot. Designed by Sean Hogan, Cistus Nursery.
Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears' Photo: Sebright Gardens
Cool your heels – and the garden – with blue foliage plants. Blue will encourage you to linger in the garden a little while longer.

What’s your favorite blue foliage plant?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tomatillos for Twenty

Until now, I’ve never grown tomatillos and have seldom eaten them, yet I decided to buy and plant four varieties earlier this year in my community garden plot. (Click here for how to pronounce tomatillo.) I had no expectations other than hoping that they would grow and provide a few fruit. It’s a good thing I was enthusiastic with my initial purchase, because unbeknownst to me, two or more plants are needed for proper pollination.

My tomatillo experiment is wildly exceeding my initial low expectations. Currently, many are bursting their inedible, paper-like husks, a sign that they are ready to be picked, eaten fresh, or fried, boiled, roasted or steamed before being consumed. An unexpected advantage of tomatillos is that they store well: they will keep refrigerated for several weeks, longer if the husks are removed and they are stored in sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator (one source said up to 3 months). They can also be frozen whole or sliced.

As part of the nightshade family, tomatillos (Physolis ixocarpa and P. philadelphica) are a cousin to tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant. Native to Mexico and domesticated by the Aztecs around 800 BC, tomatillos are an important part of Mexican cuisine and the key ingredient in green sauces. They need full sun, well-drained moderately rich soil and plenty of water. Plant at the same time you set out tomatoes when all danger of frost is past and the soil is warm. The plants are sprawling, growing 3-4 feet tall and wide. I didn’t provide any support for them this year, but will use tomato cages when I plant them next year to minimize the growing space they require.

Many green salsa recipes using tomatillos can be found online. I made an easy refreshing cold soup using mine. Here’s how I did it:

•    Roast/char the tomatillos under the broiler
•    Put them in the food processor with fresh tomatoes from the garden (about a 1:1 mixture), pulsing until little pulp remains
•    Add a little cumin, salt and a wee bit of sugar to taste
•    Serve cold or at room temperature

Monday, September 8, 2014

Finishing Touches in the Garden

Rocks in the garden are the equivalent of mascara for blond eyelashes. (Note: This is the opinion of a strawberry blond that is seldom seen outside her neighborhood without mascara.) Rocks make elements in the garden stand out ... and they add a little magic. Prior to last year, I had two rocks in my garden. Now they define entry points onto paths, define space, add water elements, act as stepping stones in my mushy grass (I can now traverse my garden without muddy feet even in the wettest of weather) and provide seating in the form of a semi-circular rock wall. I dream of lining my gravel paths and beds with them, too. I have books filled with ways to use rocks in the garden, and Pinterest offers lots of inspiration. The use of rocks is virtually limitless in a garden setting. If I had three wishes from a genie, I very likely would use one of them to make rocks weigh less. Moving the darn things is probably the biggest obstacle to using more of them. Do rocks play an important role in your garden?

Three basalt columns. One with still water; the other two with bamboo spouts.
One of my all time favorite fountains.
Rock as an eye-catching mulch.
Perhaps easier than building a short wall? Photo: Pinterest
Mary-Kate Mackey created her own alpine scree where dwarf conifers and Lewisia thrive.
Loose Mexican pebbles (with concrete keystone) add color and stature to the transitional space between driveway and my garden's gate.
Rocks aid in managing stormwater runoff. From a courtyard designed by Steven Koch, FASLA.
Rock as art - painted green and used as sculpture in this case. Michael Schultz designed this garden.
Hosting a miniature fairy house. How adorable is that?!?! Photo: Pinterest

This looks like the fantastic work of Jeffrey Bale. Photo: Pinterest
A magical mix of stones. Photo: Pinterest

Photo: Pinterest

Large stone pavers are beautifully crafted to create a safe, level walkway while stacked rocks define garden beds.

A rock "chair" in the dry stack wall.
The kind of low rock wall I'd love to have in my garden.

Beautiful stone steps. The more rustic coloration works well with the drought tolerant plantings.

The various stones add visual interest and provide a place to stop and enjoy the bubbler.

Same stones, but the path to the front door is mortared while the gaps between stones in less formal patio is not.

Reinforcing the Japanese style in this garden, rocks do it all: create points of entry, establish the edges of raised beds, and lead the eye through the space.
Beautiful rock wall (and garden) designed by Adriana Berry, APLD, of Plant Passion Design LLC. It's a great place to relax and enjoy different views of the garden ... and expands seating for garden parties!