Bringing the New Year In

It’s exciting to start a new year and 2014 already looks to be a busy and fun year.  Gardeners in our area look forward to the winter solstice with more expectation than Christmas. As the shortest day of the year, seeing the sun set at  4:24 is downright depressing but there is a silver lining.  Every day after the solstice brings a few minutes of daylight back to us and leads us into the hopeful season of spring.

This year has been a dry year with lots of sun so I should really not complain. Even today the sun was amazing, high about 40 with a ring of beautiful snowy mountains around the horizon. I put the Christmas decorations away and started raiding the greenhouse. My little greenhouse is tucked under a deck. It has sun on one side for about 7 hours a day, no direct overhead sun. Because of this, I have several bands of florescent lights to provide the needed additional light. I am able to over winter bananas, echevarias, tropical lilys, water plants, and other tropical treasures. I also keep good collection of orchids which I rotate into the house through out their blooming seasons.  Although orchids would like to have warm days and cool nights they also do fairly well with consistent temps.  I keep their water in a separate container at greenhouse temp so they don’t get cold water. Fertilizing with orchid fertilizer also helps to get some good blooms.

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One orchid that was wonderful throughout the entire holiday season was this little gem, Zygopetalum, fragrant orchid. It sent up a spike in October and I moved it into the house in November. I kept smelling this wonderful fragrance and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Finally it occurred to me to smell the orchid. Orchids usually have no strong scent, however, this one is one of the most fragrant of all . The spike held 10 flowers and the scent filled the room. I moved it into my bedroom for the rest of the season.

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This plant, bilbergia nutans Queens tears, I picked up at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show about 3 years ago. It loves being outside in the summer and takes almost no water. This year I divided it into about 20 babies and put the old one back in the pot. They like to be pot bound to bloom but this was beyond pot bound. Some of the babies were blooming and were given away to new homes. They don’t really take too much effort just don’t water and don’t let freeze.

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This is a portion of my orchid bench in my green house. I have two vanilla orchids – vanilla planifolia. If you want to read something funny google “how to grow your own vanilla”. When I got to the “every day for six weeks, wrap the pods in a wet blanket to sweat and at night unwrap” part ,(after waiting 9-12 months for the bean to mature, pollinating flowers in the morning with a chopstick, after waiting 3-5 years for plant to mature) I vowed I would never attempt to grow my own vanilla even though (technically) I could. That gardener’s idea of easy is very different than mine.

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Another orchid out of my greenhouse is Purple and brown and smell’s like pepper.

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Veltheimia bracteata (Forest Lily) – I got this bulb for last years garden show. I just wanted it for my own greenhouse but don’t order that often from San Marcos in California. A client said he cares for one in the window of his house. These are just coming into spike and bloom .

What things do you, my gardening friends, do to bring the out doors in? What are you over wintering in your green house?  Don’t have a green house?  That’s okay, if you did have a green house what would be in it?

It’s NW Flower & Garden Show Time!

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The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is fast approaching.  The theme this year is “Art in Bloom” and let me tell you it’s been a fun theme to work with.  Our focus is on the rhythm of the earth and how you can use garden space to help unwind and re-connect with nature.  Now that the holiday season is over preparations are in full swing.  We are working with Michelle Burgess from Michelle Burgess Designs and Ryan Blythe from Rainier Glass Studio (are you getting curious?).  We’ve been checking up with our growers to see what plants will be ready and which ones won’t be.  Plan “b” is ready just in case.

GardenShow Newsletter volunteer  Every year we need volunteers to help us around the show garden.  Each volunteer has a 4 hour shift and the rest of the day to enjoy the show.  You’ll spend your shift handing out brochures and answering general questions about the garden and Plantswoman Design.  Would you like to join us? Leave a comment below or email us at susan[at]plantswomandesign[dot]com and we will get you set up.

GardenShow Newsletter ConnectOver the next month we will have a lot to share with you.  From info about the show to pre-show prep days right on through to the show itself.  We will be posting regularly on our blog and our Face Book page.  We may even have a few things to give away!!!  Thinking about your garden already this year?  Maybe it needs a little help?  Stay tuned on how you can win a personal consultation with Susan and an personalized online idea book to help get your garden in shape this year.

Putting The Garden To Bed: Part 1


Smoke is rising from the chimneys, fog rolls down the bay, frost falls softly, quietly like snow on bare branches and dying leaves. Fall’s relentless march is fast fading into the dark misty morning and winter is close on it’s … Continue reading

Blowing in the wind – Autumn grasses shine

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Autumn is a time when everything starts to die back.   The fun fluffy perennials, crazy growing annuals and lush trees change and start to go dormant.   One of the best things about grasses is they begin to really put on … Continue reading

Greenhouse Day

It is a beautiful day here on the west coast. It has been spectacular weather for fall color and feeling. Nippy in the morning with a tinge of wood smoke and fallen leaves in the air. Afternoons are sunny and you can see the sun on the horizon moving away to the south of the garden. Sunrises are coming up later and later with more awesome colors than I can describe.

These days I spend about 1 day a week prepping for the Northwest Flower and Garden show. I’m ordering plant material, picking it up and nestling it into the greenhouses that will hold our plant material until February. I have already ordered many flats of bulbs for the show that will be forced at their location and brought to the show blooming (hopefully). It is not an exact science so we do our best and have a plan B.

I always like to feature different types of plants in my show gardens. That is one of the reasons I first started coming to the flower and garden show all those years ago. I wanted to see something new and learn about what others were growing. Many times I saw something I had never seen before and I learned about it at the show. Now I guess I am a little jaded since entering the horticultural world.  As a designer I get to see a lot of new plants and now say ‘I have one of those’ instead of ‘I want one of those’ and sometimes I have to say “Yep, I’ve killed one of those’.

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White Bouquet, Candy Club
iris reticulata natascha, fritillaria meleagris alba

As I prepare for the show I know I want some different types of bulbs. So on to the Van Engelen site I go and order some bulbs.  I found these great (I hope) things called bunching tulips. They have multiple stems coming from the bulb with multiple flowers on them. I had never seen them before so I called my grower and asked about them. He said they had been around for several years and didn’t really sell well so they stopped growing them. Hmmm… Of course that means I have to try them.  I ordered  candy club and white bouquet.

Last year I forced Allium shubertii. It was difficult because they are a summer blooming bulb but I had about a 50% success rate. If the bulb blooms early in the year it is easier to force.  If you plan on forcing bulbs you can count on at least a 12-14 week chill factor. That means you would place the bulbs into a dark 40-45 degree place in moist soil. Then add the actual blooming time and you will have a fairly good idea when to expect them. The folks at Van Engelen can help you with guesstimating if you are unsure.  I received the order and put them into the shop refrigerator that has drinks and snacks for the crew. They had to put up with the boxes of bulbs for a couple of weeks… small price to pay, right?

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Today I mixed up a fast draining soil mixture and added some bulb food. I placed the several bulbs in containers with the soil. I pack them together because I want the pot to be full and bursting with color. I don’t usually do that in the ground especially if they are naturalizing bulbs.

I also potted up some iris reticulata natascha, and some white blooming fritillaria meleagris alba.

I think maybe you can guess what color scheme I’m going for the show. I’m excited to do a more formal limited color palette this year.

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I also could not resist adding some Christmas color into the forcing planting. I potted up some Amaryllis ‘nymph’ and amaryllis ‘white nymph’ for the Christmas season.  I soak the bulbs overnight if the roots are dried out at all. Then I put them into the same bulb mixture as the tulips with fast draining soil and bulb food. I like planting the amaryllis in a soil mixture instead of plain water because I think water can stagnate sometimes and the bulb will rot. These are in my greenhouse now and not chilled. They will stay here until they start to bud. If it is close to Christmas they will go into the house. If they start too early I will move them to a cool frost free place to save the blooms until closer to Christmas.

I’m excited to see how these work into the Christmas scheme. Let me know if you have tried forcing bulbs before and how they turned out. | copyright 2013

Fall Garden Bounty: Skinny apples

I’m just finishing up my plan for the 2014 Northwest Flower and Garden Show, this will be my 5th year being involved. My first venture was doing a patio garden called ‘Living it up‘. I was very nervous. I made two containers out of recycled roofing and planted them with edibles. I went down to Raintree Nursery and picked up two varieties of cordon apples, The Scarlet Sentinel and North Pole, to put in the containers. Cordon apples are not very popular in the U.S. but in the U.K. they are very popular for small gardens. I didn’t really pay much attention to the varieties as I just wanted to have something blooming. After the show I put them in the ground at the bottom of the garden and didn’t pay much attention to them until last year. I reworked the space above the vegetable garden next to the compost bin and there was a little space there to put the apples. They have been very happy there quite possibly because of the compost pile next to them. This year they have produced some of the biggest apples I’ve seen on a tree let alone on a tree with the small stature of the cordon apple.

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As I have collected my harvest I have made applesauce and apple crisp, both were gone in a flash. The Scarlet Sentinel tastes a lot like a honey crisp according to my granddaughter. I know they are sweet and juicy.

Skinny Apple2Here are the apples ready to make into applesauce.

Skinny Apple3Here is the same group with an egg to show the size of the apples.

When I make applesauce I do it different than when I was young. I made lots of applesauce for my kids using the old method of washing and cutting up the apples, cooking them with the peelings and cores, then sieving them to remove all the bits. This made a smooth sauce with a slightly pink or brown color. Now, I like my applesauce with a little character –lovely and golden with bigger chunks of apple left inside.

Here is how to do it. Start with a good flavorful apple (no broken down, mealy ones). Put a little water in the bottom of a decent size pan, just enough to cover the bottom, on medium heat. Now it’s time to start chopping apples.  Wash and peel your apples and remove the core.  Cut into chunks straight into the pan. Go ahead and let these start cooking while you start working on the next apple. Cook and add apples a little at a time to get a good sauce going.  You can add sugar to taste (I will usually add about 1/4 cup of sugar because that helps bring out the juice of the apples). Don’t add anymore sugar until the sauce is done so I can just add what is needed, sometimes you don’t need any more. I cook it all until it is mostly soft. Make sure the last pieces of apple added are soft but not mushy.

Skinny Apple4And voila!  It does take a while but nothing is better with grilled pork.

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The way you care for cordon apples is similar to regular apples. I do some pruning early in the spring (Feb here). I look for fruiting spurs and make sure to leave them alone. I like to bring any really long branches back towards the trunk. I have staked my apple trees with rebar stakes because of the weight of the fruit. I usually have to tie them in as they grow and support the fruiting branches. As they grow I keep an eye on the branching structure. If there is a branch that is putting on a lot of lateral growth I prune it back again, usually in June. The fruit is already set by then so it is easy to get rid of extra branches and leaves that are not needed for fruit production.

I will include this last picture of the North Pole apple. It is on a smaller scale and the apples are still really good. The fruit is really red and the branching is not as full as on the other ones.  The cordon apple is easy to grow and will fit into a very tight spot.

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So tell me, what are you doing with your garden harvest?  Do you have a recipe to share?  Please, do tell!

Canna, Banana, Pho-Fanna

Tropicalissimo in the Pacific Northwest.  It is hard to imagine my garden without my huge wonderful tropical plants. I did not grow these lovlies when I first started gardening. I would not have even attempted. Then I went to Hawaii. On the garden island of Kauai I fell totally in love with the lush big bold textures of leaves, bright colors and glorious earthy scents of a tropical garden. I went from an dabbler into a dunker and just had to have anything big and glorious. I have killed many things that were ‘marginally’ hardy in my garden. I once tried an imperial dahlia known to grow large in my area but never flower (it was as advertised). The princess flower overwintered successfully one year and not so successfully the next year or the year after with a new plant.  While these were great to experiment with the foliage wasn’t enough for me, I had to go bigger. Next I put in a Tetrapanax p. ‘rex’, it has lovely huge leaves that were spiky and toothy. I still have it but have to chop the baby shoots off every year so it doesn’t devour the rest of the garden.  The hardy banana beside it comes back each year stronger with more stems coming up from the ground (Musa Basjoo).

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hardy banana Musa Basjoo

Near by there is a whip of a magnolia tree that at first struggled to produce even 3 leaves. After 5 years I saw it’s first bloom and the leaves are now enormous. The flower only lasted for about a week but I would go out every day to see it and smell it.

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magnolia flower worth waiting for

I have several hardy Gingers. Here is one as seen from the entrance to my pond area with it’s hornbeam hedge. Sometimes it’s fun to come out of a formal area into wild, lush foliage.  This Ginger (Hedychium coccineum ‘Tara’) is reliably hardy in my garden. It spreads each year and does bloom in the late summer. Last year our weather was so bad that I only got a few blooms in September. This year the heat has really brought the blooms. I also dedicated a sprinkler head to it so it gets plenty of water in the summer.

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Hedychium coccineum ‘Tara’

It is unusual (I think? maybe not) to build a greenhouse to house one plant. I purchased this red Banana several years ago now. Most people said don’t worry you can just buy another and throw it away but I was determined to try and keep it. With much persuasion I convinced my family to create a little greenhouse under the decking by my bedroom. That year I brought in my red banana, ensete ‘maurelli’ several echevarias, burgmansia, and Queens’ tears . I already had many orchids so now they also have a place to grown with higher light and humidity. The first year it survived, the second year it pushed to the top of the greenhouse

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ensete ‘maurelli’

Each year I struggle with algae in my pond. The combination of warm water and fish waste creates the perfect situation for algae bloom. I’ve put floating plants, lilies and other plants in the pond to combat the algae but the fish really like them (and by “like them” I mean in the ‘I’m a vegetarian’ way). They eat the roots off of most everything I put in there and nibble the leaves off emerging plants. This year I decided to try to throw some common water hyacinth in the pot fountain. I thought maybe it would keep the major source of algae down. It succeeded beyond anything I imagined makes the whole pond area look magically lush and tropical. The wires you see are my Koi pond animal deterrent system. This keeps heron, river otters, raccoons and the occasional dog from getting in the koi pond.

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common water hyacinth

This canna from Plant Delights nursery in North Carolina has been in the ground next to the pathway for 4 years. The first year I thought it was dead after winter but it struggled back. It has increased in height each year but not that much in width likely due to the pathway in front of it or lack of water in that area beneath the edge of the deck but it doesn’t seem to mind. The pods on this canna are so cool too. I love to bring them in in the fall and dry them out.

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The tropical look extends into the vines too. I have the hardy Kiwi, actinidia, down in the main garden where it can vine everywhere and it has fruit each year!! Up in the tropical area of my garden I have a passion vine that likes to throw itself around. It vines between the fence, a palm tree, and a manzanita. While the manzanita is outside the hedge it still wants its tropical neighbor to climb on it each year. I mulch the roots in the fall, it looks dead in the winter through early spring, then suddenly it is sprawling around. By the time August and September come it is blooming with its other worldly flowers. Fabulous!

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Let me know what you think about tropical plants in a non-tropical place. What do you grow in your area that is not quite the norm?

Fall Garden Bounty: Walla Walla Sweets


As you may already know, if you are following the blog, I have a great harvest of Walla Walla Sweet Onions. I planted 50 sets and I’m sure there are at least 50 nice size onions. I have been experimenting with what to do with them beside eat or cook with them so I stored some of them and they are doing fine. To store them I wrapped them carefully (they bruise easy) in shredded paper and stacked them carefully in a wire basket. Tucked away on a shelf in the garage they are doing just fine. While researching storage suggestions for onions one website suggested putting them in pantyhose and tying knots between them to keep them separate. When using them simply cut the knots to get an onion. Ok… I’m having a generational gap I think. I don’t have panty hose… Oh maybe one pair in the back of my closet to wear with my short black evening dress but in my line of work I don’t exactly have them just lying around.  And, if memory serves, the last time I bought them they were very hard to find and not cheap (around $10 a pair). I think the shredded paper is a better solution for me with no surplus pantyhose.
Today I made onion marmalade. I started with a recipe I had for French Onion Marmalade and adapted it to be a little more me. I’ll show you the process as we go.

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Onion Marmalade

1 KG (just over 2 lbs) of red or yellow onions, peeled cut in half and sliced thinly (yes I have a scale to weigh them)
100 ml olive oil (just about 1/2 cup I add it as needed)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 rosemary springs (wrap and tie in cheesecloth)
150g soft brown sugar (3/4 cup)
75 ml dry white wine (1/3 cup)
75 ml red wine vinegar (1/3 cup I used champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar)
25 ml balsamic vinegar (good size splash I used white balsamic vinegar)

Onion Maramalade

1. In a heavy fry pan (I use non stick), heat up some olive oil and add the finely sliced onions – toss around to make sure they all have a coating of oil.
2. Cook over gentle heat until they start to color.
3. Add the salt, pepper, bay leaves and rosemary springs and cook for another 20- 30 minutes. until herbs have wilted.
4. add the sugar, wine and vinegars.
5. bring back to boil and keep stirring all the time. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20-30 more minutes until the liquid is all dissolved and the onions are soft and sticky. Watch carefully as this mixture may burn easily.
6. Pick out the rosemary and bay leaves (this is why I put the rosemary in cheesecloth but I’ve left some in and it was ok too) and spoon the marmalade into clean dry & sterilized jar and seal straight away. Ready to eat after 2 weeks but better if kept for at least 1-2 months. I store in refrigerator but could be processed for longer shelf life.
7. Makes one 300ml jar – but can be easily increased.

The changes I made make it a little brighter in color. As you can see it takes a lot of onions to make just one jar. I used the small jars so I can use just what I need and give away some.

Onion Marmalade is so fabulous on burgers, steaks, ham sandwiches grilled or cold, even put over cream cheese and served with baguette slices or crackers.

I still have beets, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, lettuce, arugula, leeks, broccoli, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini to get creative with and the rhubarb is still producing.  I will probably make some more Rhubarb Ginger Jam this year. Next week I’ll post about my apples. I planted cordon apples left over from a garden show several years ago. You will be amazed when you see them. Please, share with me any interesting way you are using vegetables from your garden!


Orange is the New Black

There is a lovely spot just between summer and true fall when the air is slowly cooling and the fierceness of the sun is less effective. It’s a great time to hike into the woods and see nature’s garden. I am inspired by what I see in the natural world time and time again. The suddenness of color interspersed into soft neutral tones of the woodland is so amazing. As I see these I think of artist, Andy Goldsworthy. He works with natural found items and creates lovely temporary sculptures in the same way. Sometimes he puts bright leaves into muted backgrounds by creating patterns that are visible from a good distance away. This punctuation or ‘shout’ of color is really very art worthy.

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I came across these amazing fungi while walking in the Blue Hills just outside of Boston. I know that in just a few weeks the woods will be vivid with the blazing New England colors of fall but right now there is a subtle beauty to see.  Even along the coast of Cape Cod there are signs that the fall is approaching.

Walking and touring around the countryside helps me remember some of the basics of landscape design. Repetition of plants to bring the garden together and make it cohesive. A focal point that brings a statement of color to view. Soft harmonies in plant material color and texture can bring calm into the space . These are sometimes called ‘naturalist design principals’ for obvious reasons.

I’d love to hear from you.  How are you noticing the coming of Autumn?