Archive for December, 2012

A Stroll Thru the Garden in Winter

The Winter Garden

I know most of us don’t do much with our gardens at this time of year and I’m no exception. It’s cold and rainy out most days and not exactly great weather for gardening of any sort. There are still things to do that I haven’t gotten to yet and some clean up I have yet to follow thru on, as well as some pruning of big trees I’m putting off for a nice day. But mostly what I find myself doing these days is simply strolling thru the garden and appreciating it for what it is in this time of year.

You may think there’s not much to look at now but there are still so many things that catch my eye as I wander around the yard and follow the paths I’ve got winding thru the garden. The first thing I notice are all the colors that are in such abundance even in this dreary time. One thing that catches my eye first off is that the Cryptomeria “elegans” is slowly turning from its usual green to an incredible purple for winter. It’s not fully there yet but it stands out now and is clearly no longer a green tree. And it’s still soft and ‘pettable” too!

The Leucothoe is very striking with its purple and red leaves overlaying the green and yellow ones. Its arching branches make it stand out in the empty space around it. And it’s almost starting to set those bloom buds that are so attractive later on in the season. Across from it I spot the Winter Creeper, which, tho it’s not dramatic, has gentle shadings of reddish/purple in the margins of the leaves that you have to get close to in order to appreciate. So that’s what I do. I get close.

One plant I don’t get close to is the Oregon grape and it’s varieties I have. The blue berries that covered them earlier in the season have mostly been eaten by the birds and are gone now but the plants are still prickly like holly and are covered now with holiday lights instead of fruit. The nandinss planted among them are all turning a lovely shade of reddish purple and make the whole front of the house look pretty against the backdrop of the tall dark Pyramidallis arborvitae that screens the house from the street.

Of course the conifers are the backbone of many gardens and mine is no exception. Many of the dwarf confers that line the paths and are at the junctions of the walks and at corners of beds are really holding things together now. You may think of them as green when you think of evergreens, naturally, and most are, but some of mine, like the Baby Blue False Sawara cypress are bright blue as are the Blue Spruce and its cultivars, and the Blue Star juniper at one corner. The Snow false cypress is a whitish green and the Lutea Hinoki cypress is a nice golden color as is the globe arborvitae in front. And the Blue Pfitzer juniper is actually a beautiful greyish color.

The bed of Scotch Heathers is really pretty at this time of year. The dead flower buds still hang on the plants in profusion and carry with them a sense of the season. They may be drab, their colors faded, but that’s so appropriate for this time of year that they seem beautiful to me even in their faded glory. There’s beauty all over if you look for it I think.

Of the deciduous plants the creek dogwood and the Sango Kaku Japanese maple both have striking red branches this time of year and stand out from the grey around them. I can’t wait to see them in the snow! Next to the creek dogwood the swamp cypress is still valiantly  holding onto a few of it’s leaves. It’s the very last thing to lose them and it amazes me how long they stay on there.

The choke cherry on the other side of the dogwood is covered with its usually biter fruit, but I ate one today and it was actually sweet. I guess the cold does that to them. I leave them for the birds of course but maybe I should try making some syrup or something from them some year. That’s what they grow them for commercially in Russia where this variety comes from, tho it’s an eastern US native. The purple/black berries really stand out in the border.

As I say most of the plants have lost their leaves by now so it’s the buds I look at next. The Pieris, or Lily of the Valley shrubs are most notable now because they’re all starting to put on long racemes of buds in various colors from the white of the Little Heath to the red of the now deceased Valley Valentine to the pink of the Mountain Flame, which also has some new red leaves on it amazingly enough. They strike me as quite beautiful with their abundance of buds that will bloom in a few months but are preparing us now with their displays.

Of course the main things for buds are the big Rhododendrons. The Sappho and the Blue Peter both are literally covered with them and they’re mostly big fat bloom buds so this will be a good year for flowers from them. The Anna Rose Whitney is a little slower but still is shaping up to have quite a few flower buds on it in the midst of all the growth buds I see. The smaller Rhodies also have buds on them as does the giant Camellia japonica in the front corner of the yard. It’ll be amazing soon.

I also notice near the Rhodies the flower clusters of the Viburnum rhitidophyllum that are growing larger day by day and will be a full 5 or 6 inches across by the time they bloom in spring. They’re a dusky brown now but open to a creamy white. They set these buds out to show us even now of their future beauty. I had to prop this one up this year as it was getting to be over 6 ft tall and I guess the peaty soil wasn’t firm enough for it. Kinda scary but I think we fixed it OK.

It may be my imagination or not since I so love to see things develop, but I’d swear that several others of the plants are also putting on buds. I know for sure that the metasequoia is doing so since it started just after the leaves fell and they’re on there solidly now. But even the enkianthus are putting on what looks to be the new buds for spring already and the Ural False Spirea has fat green buds that may not be swelling yet but will be soon.

Next to it is a winter daphne and it really is putting on some growth now and it’ll be blooming in another month or two. It’s got big flower buds and growth buds both and it’s getting large. I may have to prune it gently this coming year to keep it safe. Last year the snow broke a branch but I duct taped it back together and it’s been fine ever since. Bet you didn’t know you could use duct tape for fixing plants too did you? (Just be careful to take it off soon…)

The Himalayan Sweet Box is already close to blooming now and its buds are swelling even as I write this. They’re so strong smelling that the one I planted by the front walk will carry its scent up to the doorway when we open it to come outside and it will great visitors with its lovely smell. I have a couple of these because they’re such tidy shiny evergreens and have such amazingly sweet smells that they impress everyone who even comes close to them. They’re great plants to welcome people to our home.

Well I think I’ve covered the most significant parts of the garden for you now. I hope this little tour was interesting to you and shows you how much there can be to see even in the drab days of winter. It won’t be long now till some things start to bloom, in fact my Charity Mahonia has been in bloom for weeks now, but things will really start up soon and I’m ready for it. It’s past the Solstice and the days are getting longer now and the plants can tell that even if we can’t so easily. It’ll be spring again before you know it, but why wait to enjoy your garden. Go out in it now and see what pleasures you can find on your own Winter Stroll!

Have a nice walk,


The Ericaceae

IMG_2230IMG_2078IMG_2006IMG_3341IMG_3339IMG_3338IMG_3135IMG_3092IMG_3090IMG_3037IMG_2888IMG_2670IMG_2507IMG_2407IMG_2233IMG_2168IMG_2203IMG_2152IMG_2135IMG_2116IMG_2075Dora Amateis RhododendronHoward McMinn ManzanitaFragrant KalmiopsisWestern AzaleaWickwar Flame Scotch Heather

Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe





































I’ve talked before of my love of the Ericaceae, or as it’s c0mmonly known, the Heather Family. Here are some representative samples of it from my garden. I have more but I didn’t have good pictures of them so I left then out. And besides I figured this was enough. I’ll try to give a brief intro. to each plant and let you know a bit about why I think they’re valuable. They’re all different but have similar aspects. For instance they all have a bell shaped flower with five locules or “chambers” to their ovaries. Some are bigger than others, like the Rhododendrons compared to the andromedas. You may have to click on them to see them in large enough size to appreciate them and I hope you do so. They’re really worth it.

Starting at the upper left and working my way from left to right and then down is a Kurume Azalea called “Ward’s Ruby”. I love it because it has such deep red flowers in the spring. They cover the plant and light up the back yard where it’s growing. Beside it are some Furzy Heaths along the front walk to to house. They bloom in late winter at a time when not much else is blooming. In fact they’re starting now in December. They welcome visitors to the house with their gentle colors.

Next is an Enkianthus, a large growing deciduous shrub which has red veined flowers and turns some amazing colors in fall as you can see. Now where it’s planted it turns orange instead of purple. Go figure…. Beside it is the Salal, a common understory plant here in the Pacific Northwest that the Native people used for food and basketry. It has large purple fruit that isn’t that tasty but makes a good pemmican I understand.

This is one of the several dwarf Rhododendron varieties I have. Called “Bow Bells”, it has bright pink flowers in early spring and keeps a nice rounded form. I replaced another dwarf Rhodie with this one after it gave up the ghost. Even in my garden things do  die. Beside it is one of 4 Lily of the Valley shrubs I have. It’s called “Prelude” and is a dwarf that only gets a couple feet tall and has racemes of white flowers along the stems in spring.  Very lovely in bloom and compact in form.

Then come the Blueberries. Of course Blueberries are in this family, along with hucklberries, lingonberries, cranberries and other berries we eat. We have 7 varieties and get lots of fruit from them every year so far. I love it when they turn color in fall and are all red and purple. Lovely. Next is a large Rhodie called “Blue Peter” which was here when I got here and is a large flowered plant with a deep purple splotch in the center. Next is an “Anna Rose Whitney” Rhodie I planted and is finally blooming after 3 years in the ground. It’ll get about 5 or 6 feet tall.

Here is another azalea. This one is a Formosa, tho I don’t know for sure because it was already here when I arrived. It really shows itself off where it is in the rockery in the front yard. Next is a small heath called “Rose Glow” that has since died but I like the picture and the plant so I included it. I don’t know why it died but it just went one day and was gone. Sigh. It always makes me sad to lose plants tho it’s the way of the garden so I  get used to it. Beside it is a small Uva Ursi Manzanita, a ground cover found around the Northern Hemisphere. It has small apple like berries which is why it’s called a Manzanita – Manzan is apple in Spanish, so “little apple” is its name. They were eaten by Native people but aren’t that tasty and were used in pemmican like the Salal.

This one is a Mountain Laurel variety called “Raspberry Glow” and its flowers show why. It’s just starting to bud out here so the blooms are a week or two away. It’ll get 5 feet all over in time but is very slow growing so it’ll take awhile. It’s close to the deck so we can see it up close when it blooms. Another large Rhodie is next to it – a “Sappho” named for the  famous poet of Lesbos, it has a deep purple blotch in the center of a creamy white flower. Very nice and floppy like some Rhodies are. Next is another Lily of the Valley Shrub that gets large and has flame colored red leaves in the spring as you can see. It’ll provide a nice setting for the deck and a screen from the neighbors as well.

Here’s another dwarf Rhodie called “Ginny Gee”. It only gets about 3 feet big but has pure white flowers that cover the plant in early spring. This next one is a Satsumi Azalea that is grown mostly for its foliage which is tight and is used a lot in Japanese gardens for its formality and ability to withstand close shearing to form it into desired shapes. It hasn’t bloomed for me yet and maybe it will someday, but I don’t care. It’s lovely as it is. Last is another Lily of the Valley shrub called “Little heath”, a variegated form that has pinkish new growth and white flowers in racemes like the rest of them do. They don’t look a lot like Lily of the Valley to me but I can see the resemblance I guess…

Then there are two andromedas, or Bog Rosemarys. The first one, the “Blue Ice”, has small tight growth and flowers. The second is “Macrophylla” for its large leaves and flowers. Both bloom in spring with pink bell shaped blooms and stay very small. The final Lily of  the Valley shrub, called “Valley Valentine” has also gone away since the rats dug a tunnel around its roots and piled up so much dirt so fast that it was gone before I even noticed what had happened. It hit me hard as I love the colors in these flowers. I’m glad the cats are getting the rats now and hopefully we won’t have this problem ever again. Grrrr….

This one is another dwarf Rhodie called “Dora amateis” that gets about 3 feet across and sits at the corner of the front entrance where it can show itself off to all and sundry who come to visit. It’s covered with blooms as you can see. The plant literally disappears under the burden of the flowers. Next is a “Howard McMinn” Manzanita, a slow growing form from California  where most Manzanitas grow, tho some come up into Oregon and down into Mexico. It has these lovely little bell shaped flowers in the very early spring that you have to look for but are worth the effort. I’ve talked about this Kalmiopsis in another post so won’t do much here. It’s a special and rare plant that is native to the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon and is a dwarf that again covers the forest floor in a northern clime.

The Western Azalea is a West coast native that is the parent plant of many of the deciduous azaleas in the nursery trade, such as the Exbury hybrids of England. It’s got a wonderful fragrance and I can see why it’s been used with its creamy white yellow colors and lovely smell and form. I get to see that form in the winter. Then is the “Wickwar Flame” Scotch heather. It’s in its summer colors of golden green but in the winter it turns a deep reddish color tho not too much here in this spot because of not enough sun. It has lavender blooms in the summertime.

Last is the “Drooping Rainbow Leucothoe”. These plants love being wet and we usually dump all the water from cleaning the fountain here when that happens. It turns this deep shade of purple in the winter and has long racemes of white flowers in the spring, along with its arching form. It won’t get much bigger than it is now so will be a nice underplanting for the “Bloodgood” Japanese maple I planted next to it when a large Rhodie died this last year.

So that’s the tour. You can see there is a huge variety even in my small garden in the sizes and shapes and colors and forms of these plants. And I don’t have any of the huge tree Rhododendrons or the Madronas that cover the hills of Asia or the northwest respectively. They get to be truly large trees but most of the Ericaceae are small and are good ground covers all over the Northern Hemisphere and also are shrubs that do the same in the Southern parts of most of our country and elsewhere in the world. I’ve actually got a pretty representative sampling of the kinds of plants that are in this family. I have found them fascinating for many years and I’m so happy to be able to have this collection of all these different kinds. I suspect many of you in the north have at least a few of these plants in your garden, if not the same varieties then others that are similar. They’re ubiquitous all over their range and I for one am very happy about that.

Good Gardening to you!


A Garden of Lights

Front Yard Lights

It seems we go a little crazy this time of year. I guess many people do. But what we do is decorate, decorate, decorate. We put up lights all over our garden and house. As you can see in this picture the plants that looked so serene in their winter stasis are now cloaked in the glory of Lights and more lights. We celebrate this as the Season of Lights in fact.

It’s the time of the Winter Solstice and here in the Northern Hemisphere that means that the days are becoming shorter each day and the darkness is coming on strong. Especially at a higher latitude like Seattle where it gets dark by 4:00 now. It’s Time to lighten things up!

In many northern countries there is a tradition of putting lights on trees at this Mid-Winter time of year. And also just to nurture the waning light and await the return of the light of the Solstice. It’s a time when people would get together and share what bounty they had over the winter months when things would become lean and lights did symbolize the belief and hopes that people had that light would indeed be coming back to prevent the dark from taking over the world. Superstition or reality? You decide. Those folks believed that their rituals actually brought back the light and whos’s to say it didn’t, for them anyway?

Plants Lighted

We like lots of color so we put different colors on the plants to emphasize their different natures. The “Sango-Kaku” maple, with its red stems, gets red lights, and the Oregon Green Pine gets green ones. On the left, where you can’t really see it, is a Colorado Blue Spruce and of course it’s got blue lights. The grey Pfitzer juniper is an anomaly since grey isn’t exactly a pretty color so we use yellow white on it, and on the Globe Arborvitae in the center, the Tree of Life, we use golden lights with a mellow glow.

The house is a whole different story of course. There we put up all colors of lights and do so all around the house, concentrating on the roof line and the windows. We get up on ladders and have h0oks up that we re-use every year to make it easy to put them up tho we still staple the others to the window frames.  We intend to put up hooks there too, so as we get older it’ll be safer for us to get on the ladders and put them up without danger of falling precipitously.

We went thru all our lights this year to pick out the good ones and decided that many had to be replaced, so we went to the store and bought a whole bunch of new strings. We’re thrifty so we used a lot of the half-dead strings to do the front. You can’t see them but across the whole front of the property there’s a double string of multi-colored lights on  the Nandina and Oregon Grapes, which look like holly,  and liven it up out there. In the dark it’s hard to tell that it isn’t holly and the sparkle of the leaves and the sinuous line of the lights draws people into the rest of the yard. We get a lot of people stopping by to look at the display even tho it’s really not as outrageous as many people do. But it suits us and gives us pleasure.

Nordman Spruce

Of course we have lights inside too on the Holiday Tree and we got some LED lights to do it this year. We got a Normand Spruce, a new tree to the holiday trade in the last 5 or 6 years we understand. It’s dense and has lots of branches and has a nice fragrance we enjoy getting close  to. We put it in warm water to start with with a touch of sugar and a hint of Chardonnay for good measure. It all helps…; ) We were sparing of the decorations this year and just put on a few to accentuate the lights and the shape of the tree.  I think more people will be using this tree in the years to come as it’s quite lovely and hardy and doesn’t lose it’s needles for a long time.

This may seem like foolishness and a waste of energy to some I’m sure. But it’s only once year and we are really pretty conservative as well as we can be the rest of the year, on electricity and water and everything else. We’re pretty frugal really. But we do splurge on the lights. After all it’s the Season for them, eh? A Beautiful Season of Lights and a Great Holiday to you all.

In Service to the Light,


Plant Amnesty Says: Stop Topping Trees

PlantAmnesty bumpersticker

This is a blatant promotion of a non-profit organization here in Seattle that I think more people should be aware of. I’ve been a member for a few years and have deep respect for their work. They’ve literally changed the way people see Trees and plants in this area and show statistics of some of those changes here in this Info. kit I’ve copied from their website, (with permission I might add). The words are theirs, but they could just as well be mine. Please think about what they are saying and consider contacting them about joining them or starting a similar group in your area. The world needs its Trees and needs them to be healthy and well pruned. It’s all about pruning to Plant Amnesty and they deserve a lot of support. I’m just trying to do my share here.

A Stand for Trees.

“We promise that when we take what we want from Nature, that we will do so selectively and with respect. Always we will preserve the health and integrity of the whole, be it a plant, a rainforest, or a planet.” Cass Turnbull, Founder, PlantAmnesty.

PlantAmnesty Mission Statement
To end the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs caused by mal-pruning (and other common forms of plant mis-management).

Most people take it for granted that trees and plants are being maintained properly, or that it’s not really a major issue. But think of the green infrastructure of our city — improper pruning and tree topping add up to an expensive waste of resources, and many trees and plants pay for these mistakes with their lives.

PlantAmnesty was founded in 1987 to “stop the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs.” The nonprofit group uses a unique blend of humor and controversy to raise public awareness of “Crimes Against Nature” committed in our own backyards. PlantAmnesty vows to end Crimes Against Nature. After alerting the public to this problem, our volunteers provide readily accessible and accurate information, materials and services.

PlantAmnesty’s solutions to plant abuse and neglect include garden renovation workshops, classes, videos, a referral service and volunteer pruning and tree projects throughout the community. Several grants have allowed our group to produce and distribute thousands of Pruning Guides, Saving Trees and Views pamphlets, tree biology quizzes for local students, tree planting guides and locally-produced public service announcements.

A serious “Crime Against Nature” is the misguided practice of topping trees. One of PlantAmnesty’s major efforts over the past two decades has been to stop this “torture and mutilation.” Why doesn’t topping work? Topping actually increases a tree’s growth rate rather than slowing it, and this makes it an expensive choice. It’s also ugly. But mostly it’s dangerous because it rots, starves and weakens a tree. Topping trees can also decrease property values for a homeowner and the entire neighborhood.

PlantAmnesty’s media campaign works. In the Seattle 1990 edition of the yellow pages, 17 of the 28 businesses with display ads advertised topping as a service. That’s 61%. In 1998 that number was 10/22 or 45%. In 2001 it was 8/34 or 23%. In 2003 only 3 in 36 advertised topping – a mere 8%!

Heritage Tree Program: Since there is little legal protection for trees in Seattle, PlantAmnesty decided to identify and celebrate the City’s special trees.
Funding for the Seattle Heritage Tree program was originally supplied by a grant from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Forest Service. Additional support has been provided from time to time by various departments of the City of Seattle. In-kind volunteer services are provided by PlantAmnesty arborists and members of the Heritage Tree Committee. In 1999 the City of Seattle became an official partner of the program, providing staff support and the Heritage Tree web site at:

Raise Awareness of the Problem.
Provide Solutions (referral service, education, volunteer pruning and care).
Engender Respect for Plants.
We Affirm:
That our organization is inclusive, tolerant and based on grassroots collective action.
That our educational materials are clear, current and technically accurate.
That we will maintain a sense of humor and good-will being outspoken on the issues.

PlantAmnesty has more than 1000 members in 31 states and four countries. We are part of a growing movement to lead society out of the dark ages of landscape care.
PlantAmnesty members share a common bond of caring about green things, and they know that an immense amount of damage is done to our landscapes as a simple result of widespread ignorance.

PlantAmnesty provides these valuable services to the community:
• Alerting the public to Crimes Against Nature with a media campaign that employs humor, education and controversy to raise public awareness. We average one million readers – viewers – listeners per year.
• Educational materials and literature including “how-to” guides, videos, pruning topics, articles, essays and slide shows. We average 300 free DVDs and videos, 6,000 free pruning guides and $3,000 worth of literature are distributed annually.
• Pruning classes, lectures, and hands-on lessons, workshops and demonstrations. Average 50 classes and 2,000 people taught annually.
• Professional arborist and gardener donated work days.
• Web Site:
Password Library available to members.
• Seattle Heritage Tree Program.
• Master Pruner Program.
• Nasty Letter Writer.
• Thousands of calls and requests for information answered by our office staff and volunteers.
• Educational display booths and speakers bureau.
• Gardener and Arborist referrals made through our free Referral Service.

PlantAmensty engenders respect for our urban ecology by speaking out on behalf of the urban forest. We have fun while we try to change the world, because we take our mission, but not ourselves, seriously.

Volunteers are the heart of most any non-profit organization, PlantAmnesty included. Our members spend countless hours providing much-needed services and education to the public. Volunteers participate in events such as the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, PlantAmnesty’s Fall FUN(d)raiser, Master Gardener’s Plant Sale and the International Society of Arboriculture’s annual conference. PlantAmnesty always needs people to speak on behalf of trees, and serve on our committees. PlantAmnesty staffs educational booths with volunteers, always pairing up a veteran with a newcomer. We also encourage members to come to Volunteer Yard Renovations. These group projects allow professional gardeners the opportunity to share tricks of the trade, tool information, and to get to know others of their kind. Novices get the opportunity to learn how to weed and prune from more experienced members. And besides, everybody feels great after saving a needy and deserving landscape from years of neglect.
Volunteers are invited to serve on these PlantAmnesty committees:
• Heritage Tree
• Education & Advocacy
• Tree Programs
• Financial Development
• Events (Fall Plant Sale)

Awards: Seattle’s Friend of the Trees Award, International Society of Arboriculture’s Gold Leaf Award, National Arbor Day Foundation’s Education Award.
PlantAmnesty is a federally approved 501 C-3 non-profit organization. As such, donations are tax deductible. Our Federal EIN Number is 91-1393557

P.O. Box 15377
Seattle, WA 98115-0377
Tel: 206-783-9813
Fax: 206-529-8023

Back to me again. I hope this has been a fun read for you. It always is for me and I get inspired just reading about their work as well as doing it in my own ways of educating people about how to prune correctly or choose the right plants to put in our yards and gardens. It’s a mission for some of us and has been for me my whole life as a gardener and landscaper, since I was in my teens even. I never did like topped trees and now I understand a lot more about why I didn’t and don’t. Please think about your choices when you prune your trees and shrubs. It can make or break your garden and leave horrid scars that last for years and may never be overcome. I’ve seen too much of it and if I seem a bit over zealous, well, it’s because I am 😉

Happy and Safe Pruning to you all,


It’s the Little Things

Fragrant Kalmiopsis

I love big trees. Their majesty and sense of history. They overwhelm me so wonderfully, and if I could I’d have a whole forest of them in my garden. But I don’t have the space for them. So I’ve decided to make a garden of little things. Of plants that bring me the joy of the larger world in small form. I have a lot of dwarf and unusual plants in this garden that are only going to get a few feet in size, small compared to many of their parents. But they are both complete in themselves and give me an echo of those parents. It’s a unique way to create a garden and I recommend it. I’ll give you a little tour of mine.

This picture is of a special and rare plant called  a Kalmiopsis fragrans. And yes, it’s fragrant. It grows in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. It may be the oldest extant specimen of the Ericaceae, the Heather Family, which is one of my favorite plant families, comprising blueberries, rhodies and azaleas, madronas, cranberries and lingonberries, wintergreen, salal and huckleberries, and of course heaths and heathers. Many of them are the plants that cover the forest floor of the northern hemisphere. This plant will get maybe a foot or two wide and a foot tall. The one here is only about 8 inches tall and less across. You have to get down on your knees to see and smell it but it’s worth it.

I have several other little plants that you have to inspect from close up. A dwarf form of Daphne called “Lawrence Crocker” that has sweet purple blossoms and grows a foot tall, with some wild ginger with its strange red flowers poking out next to it. A dwarf Himalayan blueberry that gets a similar size and has small sweet berries in the fall. Or the andromedas or bog rosemarys. They only get a foot or two wide and a foot tall and are covered with clear pink bell shaped flowers typical of the heather family. And of course there are the Heathers themselves that are generally small plants and get to a couple of feet at the most. I have a whole bed of them that are  just gorgeous in the  summer and fall when they bloom.

Then there are the dwarf forms of the trees that get so large in regular life. In the bed with the heathers is a dwarf Ginkgo that gets maybe 10 feet tall and has butterfly shaped leaves which give it its name of “Jade Butterflies”. It’s a rare and ancient tree that was thought to be a conifer for many years but is being re-evaluated for that right now. I don’t know what the result will be yet. But it’s a beautiful thing and it turns a golden color in the fall as its much larger parent does. I’ve enjoyed Ginkgoes for many years and it’s a joy to be able to have even a small one in my own garden.

Some of my favorites are the Cryptomeria, or Japanese Cedar, varieties. One called Elegans is the largest of the 5 I have. It’ll actually get 30 feet tall. That’s still a dwarf compared to its parent that gets to be a forest tree and is the national tree of Japan. Called the Sugi it’s bark and trunks are used to roof and create temples. Its dwarf varieties are so numerous I can’t begin to name even a fraction of them. The others I have are the “elegans nana”, a dwarf form of the elegans only stiffer, a “pygmaea” which gets to be a ball of about 3 feet, a “tansu” which gets only a foot or so around and is prickly as can be, and a “black dragon” which can get to 10 or 12 feet and turns a dark color as it ages which is why it’s called black. All of these give me the echo of the parent tree and make me think of what the forests in Japan must be like.

Another of my favorites is a dwarf coastal redwood called a “Kelly’s prostrate” that only gets a foot tall and 4 feet across, tho it may get bigger since it’s already that big and I’ve only had it a couple of years. It gives me the sense of a redwood grove with the needles so flat along the stems and its branches rising up in spurts here and there A friend remarked that he thought it was a fern it looked so delicate and elegant. It’s an echo of the tallest tree in the world, and I think of those trees whenever I see it.

Then there’s the dwarf form of the largest tree in the world, the Sequoiadenrdron giganteum “Pendula’ which may get to 35 or 40 feet, but that barely compares to its ancestor which is the bulkiest living thing on earth. Its foliage weeps and is a twin to the giant Sequoia. It droops down the limbs and wraps around them, and in the fog is a ghostly image of something out of legend. It reminds me of the giants I so recently saw on a trip to California. The Redwoods, both on the coast and in the Sierras where this one comes from, are simply magnificent and with dwarf specimens I get to have a little piece of them in even this small place.

There are the other conifers that are so different from their parents that it’s hard to tell that they are the same plants. The “dwarf balsam fir” is a rounded ball that only gets 3 feet across at most and the “birds nest” spruce with a dip in it in the middle reminiscent of  a nest. Aptly named. The globe blue spruce only gets to be about 4 feet around and the globe arborvitae about 6 feet which it is now. The parents of all these plants are forest trees and grow tall where these balls again only give me the echo.

There are also conifers that do look a bit more like their parents. The Chaemacyparis are a couple of these. One is the Hinoki False Cypress, or Chaemacyparis obtusa. I have a full sized one that’ll get to 40 ft but also have 2 dwarfs that will only get to 5  or 6 ft and 3 feet respectively. One is the “Nana gracilis” which is a smaller version of its parent, and the other the “Nana lutea” with golden foliage. Besides these I have 2 varieties of Chaem. pisifera, or Sawara False Cypress. A “Blue Boy” which is a 6 foot tall cone and a “Snow” which will get 16 ” as they say in the conifer society. Both these look more like trees or a bit more so anyway.

I’ve talked about the two unusual and rare dwarf deciduous conifers I have -the Taxodium distichum “Peve Minaret” and the Metasequoia gypstostroboides “Miss Grace” – in another post. Both these lose their leaves and are bare all winter long tho the Metasequoia puts on buds as early as  it loses its leaves it seems and holds them in readiness all winter long, preparing to burst forth in the spring with the soft lacy foliage that makes it one of my favorite “pettable” plants, along with the “elegans” and the “Peve Minaret”.

And of course there are the ferns of all sorts that get only a foot or two big, or maybe 5 or 6, but are still small compared to larger specimens. I have a whole wall of evergreen ones along the garage, each different from the next, interspersed with some Lenten Rose and bunchberry and columbine. They look wonderful and are so delicate and soft, giving a sense of fragility and light all year round. Some ferns are evergreen and some deciduous but all are beautiful and provide a certain kind of elegance to the garden as a whole, where I have them interspersed with other plants here and there. They grow in all sorts of places but do seem to like the shade and damp best.

Well, I could go on and on forever it seems,  but I suspect I’ve bored the socks off of many of you with all my technical details. I just wanted to illustrate how you can create a mini forest even in a small garden with the right plants. I hope you’ve enjoyed this “miniatures” tour of my space and will come back to visit again, and maybe take a look at the website associated with this blog. I have many pictures up of the plants I talk about and the garden as a whole, as well as artistic features we’ve added. It’s a more complete tour than I can give in writing with all its pictures. Check it out if you feel the desire to see more of this little Garden in Greenwood.

Remember, Small is Beautiful,


A Small Deck for a Small Garden

A Smalll Deck

There are may aspects to a good garden. A nice deck can be one of those. This particular deck is a mere 8′ x 8′ but it’s hosted a diversity of pleasures that make its small size inconsequential. It’s just right to put a small table on, with 4 chairs for an intimate meal, or for a couple of lounge chairs when we want to sit out on it and read in the evenings. Or just to hang out and sit and listen to the nearby fountain and the birds all around. And it’s right in the middle of the back garden so when you’re there you feel enclosed on all sides by plants and you can see them up close and personal. It’s a special place.

I built this deck mostly by myself, which was a crazy thing to do given the severity of my back condition. But sometimes I get a little hypomanic and I do things I probably shouldn’t. But I was impatient and couldn’t wait for help so I decided to just go for it. It’s built on cement pier blocks with 3 to a side, one at each corner and one in the middle with a central one in the center of it all to support it evenly all around and underneath. I had to dig into the peaty soil quite a bit and then put down some driveway mix to form a secure base and had to dodge roots that came from the cherry trees and kept me from making it an easy job. But it’s there now forever and quite solid to stand or sit on.

The entry to it is from the lawn, the direction from which this picture was taken. It takes into account our aging bodies and we put in a wide path made of that same driveway mix that is wheelchair accessible and easy to stroll onto in all weathers. It does drop off at the back and requires a step of a stone I placed there but it’s an easy step and no one’s fallen off yet. It gives it the slight illusion of height which it really doesn’t have and at just a foot or so off the ground it feels like more. It’s made of that plastic board material that never needs staining and will out last us by centuries. All we did was to drill holes in it and screw it down to make it a solid place to sit and hang out.

And hanging out is the chief reason to have a deck in my opinion. It allows you to just Be there in the garden in a comfortable way and interact with it without even moving. I’ve planted a wide variety of plants that like to be seen close up around it, including Japanese maples, ferns, pieris and rhodies, a large viburnum rhitidophyllum, some dwarfs and miniatures, as well as the background plantings of Hemlock and Spruce and Podocarpus. There’s also a mountain laurel that blooms wonderfully in the spring and close by are other plants that are near enough to see easily and to enjoy at leisure. Leisure is an important aspect of this deck.

The benches have been around here for years and fit perfectly to define the edge and give a place to sit when the chairs are put away for bad weather. They’re not soft but are good enough to be able to just plop yourself down on and enjoy it all. We often go out here to read and enjoy the evenings, sometimes using the lamp we installed at the edge. It’s a nice place to be and it makes the garden feel so much more inviting to have a central spot to stand and observe the birds and the plants and feel the energy of it all. It’s a little sanctuary in the midst of a larger one. You don’t need a big deck to have it work well. A small one will do.

Happy Building,


Preparing the Greenhouse

Interior of Greenhouse

As you can see by this shot I haven’t been paying much attention to my greenhouse lately. I’ve been too busy with other things and frankly it hasn’t been time. But it’s getting to be that way soon. As you can tell it’s time to do some clean up. The tomatoes that bore such nice fruit in the summer have faded almost entirely away and the hot peppers that produced such luscious spicy additions to our meals are starting to wane and they need eating soon or drying anyway. It’s time to spread the soil from the pots on the garden and clean up the benches. I need to wipe them down with a dilute bleach solution to make sure of killing any spores or diseases that might have come in during the growing season. Last year I had mold and I don’t want that again.

It’s time for me to start looking more seriously thru the endless piles of gardening and seed catalogues I get and order some things to grow next year. I know it’s too early to actually plant them but it’s going to be time soon enough. I’m still pretty new at this greenhouse business, having only had this one for less than 3 years and I’m still learning when to do what. I have my books to be sure and I do read up on when to plant things but I don’t have the innate knowledge of it that I do of the rest of my garden as a whole. I have so much to learn it overwhelms me. I want to do it right of course but this is one area where I have to be patient and to allow myself to make mistakes. At times it seems hopeless. But I love it.

I’m so happy to have this wonderful place to play and work in. Right now it’s not raining, for a change, but when it does I revel in just going out in the greenhouse and standing there and listening to the rain on the roof and hearing it rushing into the rain barrel outside. The barrel keeps the Greenhouse watered from the rains fine for most of the year until late summer when I have to fill it with the hose. I don’t have plumbing in this structure. So I use watering cans and they work swell. I haven’t had to water much lately because it’s so moist in there. In fact there’s a de-humidifier running now that helps keep the moisture down. It’s time to have the heat on too so that the tea plants and the other things that are still growing there have warmth on some of these nights when the fountains freeze over outside and there’s frost on the pumpkins when I get up in the mornings.

It’s time to get the starting bed ready too. To get it ready to turn on the wire heater that heats up the sand I have there that I set my seed flats on. Then I roll down the plastic covering and I have a mini seed starting bed right inside of the greenhouse. It’ll be time soon to do that. I don’t want to be too early but I don’t want to wait too late either. I believe in being prepared and it’s never too early to clean things up and make sure that all systems are functioning well and in good working order. That’s my task for now . Preparing things for later on when it’s time to plant. Because once things get going there’s not a lot of space for these sorts of things and you have to do them now when it’s empty. It gets full in here later on when things are in full growth.

I so enjoy the growing season. I’ve gotten really good at transplanting seedlings from the flats to larger containers and I love working with the tiny things and seeing them grow as they put out new roots into the soil. It’s so exciting and I’m thrilled to think that this cycle will all be beginning again soon. But not yet. First comes the cleanup and then rearranging things and getting ready for planting. So I have awhile. But it’s time to get serious about it all and I will soon. It just takes getting started and once I get into it I’ll have the whole place ship shape in no time and it’ll be ready for those little seeds to be placed gently in their flats and start the whole process over again. I love gardening and having a greenhouse extends what I can do so much. I feel so lucky to have this beautiful place that functions so well for me. It gave a lot of joy to many people the last couple of years. I think it’ll do the same this year. After I get it Prepared.

Happy greenhouse gardening,