Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Friday, January 31, 2014

End of the Month View, January 2014 - A Vast Hodgepodge of Ugliness

Helen Johnstone, who writes A Patient Gardener's Weblog, hosts a monthly meme called End of the Month View (Find her current post here). I met Helen briefly at last year's Garden Bloggers Fling in San Francisco, which is when I discovered her blog and started following it, and her end of the month view posts. I think it's a great idea for a bloggers' meme, so this year I'm going to be participating. There's a good chance it might end up being a beginning of the next month view, given the tendency for time to march on a lot faster than I realize.

Helen uses her monthly posts to concentrate on one particular area of her garden each year, which I think is a good idea, so that's what I'll be doing too. Some participants show various areas, but I'm going to focus on a bed in my back garden that until now has been nameless. I'm going to call it the Bottle Tree Bed, because it's the bed where I have my bottle tree, d'uh.

Right now it is a vast hodgepodge of ugliness, and I suppose I could have called it that instead of the prosaic Bottle Tree Bed, but I'm hoping by the time I'm done with it, I will have transformed it into a breathtaking vision of beauty.

Here is the evidence of its current state of ugliness, photographed from the shelter of my back porch.

Let's see if I can remember what's in there: left to rightish and round-aboutish -- an Erysimum, some Verbascums, a bunch of low-growing Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, a hardy Geranium, a Ceanothus, a couple of Agastache Golden Jubilee (and a few of their progeny dotted around), a Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle Spirit, some pink mums and some sword ferns (both hidden behind taller plants), a single pink Muhly grass, some peonies, a single Hellebore, three thriving Ribes sanguineum, a Sambucus nigra 'Black Beauty', a couple of Philadelphus lewisii, a couple of Lonicera involucrata, and one tall Mahonia leaning drunkenly on the fence somewhere way way at the back.

I spent part of last summer on my plant collecting expeditions with Peter The Outlaw Gardener (otherwise known as nursery-hopping), buying plants that I hoped to plant into this bed last fall after a massive revamping, just in time for everything to be watered in by the return of our fall rains, and thus be thriving and lovely by spring of this year. Um, yeah. That didn't happen, because early last fall I hurt my back and didn't garden for about 4 months.

But now my back seems to be healed and I am ready to get started. So my end of the month view this year is going to document this bed's transformation as it blossoms into glory.

You may have noticed in the description of what's growing here the article "a" being used a lot. This bed definitely suffers from the dreaded "one-itis" -- that tendency of many gardeners to plant one of this and one of that.

One Ceanothus -- really pretty when blooming, and evergreen, this shrub is the only survivor from the previous owner's back garden

One Hellebore

The one and only spot of prettiness right now

One 'Black Beauty' Elderberry, three red flowering currants and one drunken Mahonia

Dead peony foliage -- I know, I'm usually conscientious about cutting it back since it harbors disease, but I wanted to make sure I could find them again

Sword ferns

One pink Muhly grass, some pink mums, one Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea and two Agastache 'Golden Jubilee'

One bottle tree and one big rock

So my goal for this year is to fix the one-itis, by creating drifts of plants, preferably with the shorter ones in front of the taller ones, with color and form and texture echoes of each other, as well as repetitions of plant combinations. I want this bed to become the breathtaking vision of beauty that it should be, all year long, since it's the first thing you see in the back garden when you come through the gate on the right hand side of my house.

The bed has had its moments in the past, as documented here. But I'd like it to have more than just moments.

I hope you will follow along with me as I transform this bed and show it off in my monthly posts. Do you have any big re-gardening projects that you're planning to do this year? Do you post for Helen's End of the Month View?

By the way, you thought I was kidding about the drunken Mahonia, didn't you?

One drunken Mahonia and Oooooh, look at all that lovely shotweed.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What I Did With the Air Plants I Bought

I mentioned in my post about the Tacoma Home and Garden Show that I bought some Tillandsias aka air plants at the show. I bought four of them at the Bark and Garden booth, ranging in price from $6.99 to $7.99. They were tagged with exactly which type, but I've since removed the tags, and I know too little about them to readily ID them on sight. If I ever need to be absolutely sure, I figure I can Google each name and get it right. If I can ever find the tags again...

Here's me at the Tacoma Home and Garden Show, waiting to buy air plants. Peter The Outlaw Gardener took this, and posted about the show here.

Anyway, once I got them home I began researching exactly what conditions they like and how to display them. I even started a new Pinterest board called Tillandsia Display Inspiration. I really like the little round glass terrariums that you hang from fishing line, but I didn't have any of those. Maybe I'll find some at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. I've also heard that Barbara Sanderson of Glass Gardens Northwest has started making large glass terrariums with a magnifying lens built in, so maybe I'll get one of hers.

Anyway, my first bit of inspiration for what to do with the air plants came when I was wandering the garden assessing damage from recent windstorms which still hasn't been cleaned up, and I spied a lovely large piece of bark that had fallen from a tree. And right on the fence behind it I saw the remains of hanging glass vases that I'd made a couple of years ago, which had broken after filling with water and freezing. (I showed them in a post from a few years ago called Garden Art and Garden Junk, you can read it here.) So I rescued all those supplies and set to work.

Supplies: air plant, bag of cute little mosses, cute little blue lichen gathered from the garden, piece of bark, and cedar plaque with broken vase removed

Score! The piece of bark was just the right size for the plaque.

Cordless drill -- You all know how to use one of these, right?

I drilled a hole in the piece of bark, being careful not to drill into my kitchen counter, and then attached the piece of bark to the plaque with a screw
I used some E6000 glue to attach the little mosses in place over the screw to hide it. They also made a sweet spot to nestle the Tillandsia.

I then set it upstairs on one of our bookcases. In front of Nigel's trove of Terry Pratchett books seemed appropriate.

Nigel is also an H. P. Lovecraft fan, so of course he remarked on the very Cthulhoid shape of the Tillandsia.

My second bit of display inspiration came from this online article from Southern Living about using a terrarium. While they used a terrarium, I knew I had an unused cheapo birdcage that had the same shape. I evicted its previous succulent occupant, now dead from neglect, and used some of the little mosses from the same craft packet, along with an actual nest that I rescued a couple of years ago from where it had fallen during a windstorm.


The  birdcage now sits in my kitchen window over the sink.

A closeup of the Tillandsia sitting on its nest. I wonder if it will hatch any other display ideas for me?

The other two are awaiting more inspiration. I'm still in favor of doing something with a terrarium. In the meantime, I've got them simply sitting in pots, at the base of a couple of Cordyline 'Cha Cha' which are overwintering in my kitchen.

This one is going to bloom, if I don't kill it first.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What I Bought (and Was Tempted to Buy) at The Tacoma Home and Garden Show

Peter checks out an interesting chandelier, made out of a metal bun basket hung upside down and wired for electricity, using crystal punch cups instead of drop crystals. Actually, I think it also had drop crystals too. We both admired its clever repurposing.

No, I didn't buy Peter The Outlaw Gardener at the show. Hehe. But I did meet him there. And I have definitely benefited from his free advice about plants. We made the rounds of the show together, checking out several plant sellers' booths, as well as vendors of garden decor. You can check out Peter's post here.

The first place we stopped was the Bark and Garden booth. They have the best displays of conifers, put together like a tapestry.

Besides an assortment of cute little Tillandsias, aka air plants, I also bought a gorgeous conifer, destined for my new front garden. I fell in love. Only after I got home and Googled it did I discover that in full sun its golden needles may have a tendency to scorch. So I'm just going to have to pair it with another larger, perhaps blue-needled, conifer to shelter it somewhat from the sun.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Sunlight Lace'

What sun-starved PNWer wouldn't fall for something this golden-hued?
Last year on one of our trips to Valley Nursery in Poulsbo, I got a good look at Abies pinsapo 'Glauca,' which I think would make a good companion to this golden conifer. I've been Pinning lots of plants that I'd love to have for the new front garden, so you can get a good look at A. pinsapo 'Glauca' here. Do you have any experience growing either of these, or of conifers in general? Do you have any advice for me? I'm a conifer newbie.

I'd like to put at least one other gold-needled evergreen in that same bed, not close by, but several feet away, as a color echo. Peter bought a beautiful pine at the show, Pinus sylvestris 'Gold Coin.'

Pinus sylvestris 'Gold Coin'

Sorry it's out of focus, but the color is right.
Maybe Bark and Garden will bring more to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, which is only a week away.

I'd show photos of the four air plants I got, but I've already put two of them on display in the house. When I got home from the show I also set to Googling ways to display them. Do you have any Tillandsias? How do you display them? This is my first foray into growing them. I hope they thrive. They were well marked with the type, fortunately. Here's what I bought: T. butzii, T. bulbosa, T. aeranthos, and T. abdita. Don't worry, they're going to get a post of their own.

There were several artists selling their work at the show too. One that particularly caught my attention was Blackwaters Metal, who make rusty welded metal art. Peter and I both bought a hanging bat, only $15, a great price. I need to find a good spot for it. Maybe I'll hang it from the roof of the new greenhouse, which is almost finished. Be patient, it will get its own post soon as well.

Here's a few more items from the Blackwaters Metal booth.

A row of pileated woodpeckers

Green Man

Garden Goddess

Rusty metal lion

I've always been a great lover of mosaic art. I've tried it, and it's not easy. Peter and I both admired the very talented work of Carman of Mad Mozaics. Not only was her work beautiful, but she herself was friendly and more than willing to share details about her process.

I might have been more tempted to buy this mosaiced torso if it had been more colorful.

I love the variety of items in this mosaic heart.

These leaping fish on a piece of slate were very tempting. They'd make a great decoration to my stream, don't you think?
This is the perfect time of year for planting lily bulbs, so B&D Lilies and The Lily Pad are usually a fixture at the late winter garden shows. They both usually also have booths at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. But neither Peter nor I wanted to wait a week to buy, we both love lilies too much.

Since they were bulbs and not very photogenic, and also because I've already planted them in the front bed, I won't bore you with photos. But here's a list of what I bought:

From B&D Lilies -- Lily 'Chocolate Canary' and 'Saltarello'
From The Lily Pad -- Peach Eremurus and Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy'

Goodness, that's really all I bought! I could have sworn I bought more. I'll just have to make up for it at the flower show next week.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Only Patch of Snowdrops

It's not much, but it's flowering. I'm absolutely going to have to get more of these. It's so heartening to see their cute little blooms in mid-January.

Monday, January 20, 2014

In The Pink

A couple of days ago, as I was looking over my tender plants that are overwintering indoors on my coffee table, I spied a little flash of pink. What's this? The Billbergia nutans aka Queen's Tears that I bought late in the summer is producing a flower! I admit, it doesn't look like much yet, but just wait. Check out this link from San Marcos Growers to see what that slender flower bud will eventually look like.

I can't remember the last time I visited a nursery. My semi-weekly lunch at the Windmill Gardens Bistro doesn't count if I don't actually go into the nursery. So I had a hard time resisting a flowering Bromeliad a few days ago when Nigel and I made a quick visit to our local Lowe's. It was sitting right near the door on a table, and only $14.98. Who can resist? Making puppy eyes at Nigel, I snatched it up and hugged it close.

I don't know enough about Bromeliads to be positive about its name. But the label says "Bromelaid Fasciata" and a quick Google search leads me to think it is Aechmea fasciata. I've read that many Bromeliads are monocarpic, meaning they die after flowering, but then produce offsets. So maybe there will be more of these in my future. Wouldn't that be cool?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Garden Update

Well, I didn't get my act together enough earlier this week to put together either a Bloom Day or Foliage Followup post. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were such nice, dry days approaching tolerable temperatures (almost 50 degrees!), that I spent them outside on my hands and knees pulling weeds, cutting back and sorting out. I didn't want to take time away from the garden just to take pictures of it.  Still, despite having 3 days to work, I made only a small amount of headway on only one bed. We were supposed to get part sun with temps even warmer yesterday and today, but so far there is nothing but fog and the temperature is so cold it makes my hands ache. And there is nothing but fog in the forecast for the next 5 days. Bummer!

Anyhow, here are some closeup shots of what's looking nice in my garden right now.

I have several Hellebores, but this one is the closest to flowering

One of several profusely flowering Sweetbox -- such a delicious scent!

Mahonia 'Charity'

Mahonia 'Charity'

Cyclamen coum

Last weekend we had a major windstorm, which left my garden littered with Douglas fir boughs and cones. One quite large bough fell on one of my few blooming plants, a Mahonia 'Charity', and as I pulled it off and dragged it onto the patio, I couldn't help noticing it had some pretty lichens on it.

This pattern beneath my fall-planted Schefflera delavayi is evidence of the recent windstorm -- that little branch was blown ragged sweeping back and forth across the soil!

Here's some un-fabulous foliage I could do without -- a corner of the garden that is rapidly getting over-run with shotweed.

Here's hoping we get some weather soon that is conducive to gardening. Oh, one piece of good news -- my back is so much better after about 4 months of rest, that it barely registered all that work earlier this week. My legs and arms ached from crawling around, but not my back.