Friday, October 28, 2011

Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve

Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve August 2011

Spiraea douglasii at the Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve August 2011

Cornus stolonifera at the Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve August 2011

Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve August 2011

Nuphar polysepalum at the Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve August 2011

Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve August 2011

The Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve is basically a large beaver pond tucked between housing developments & a golf course in the City of Issaquah in King County, east of Seattle.  A forested area surrounds it.  I went there with a friend in August of 2011.  I'll leave it to you to find directions on the web, because we had a very difficult time finding the place.  There are no signs leading to the preserve.  You can't see the sign for the preserve until you actually enter it, through a narrow corridor between 2 houses.  After asking several people on the street who never heard of it, we finally found someone who directed us to the entrance.  It is certainly worth the effort to find.  I was amazed that such a large beaver pond could exist in the middle of suburbia.  It's the sort of thing I've seen only when hiking in national forests or wilderness areas.  We saw 2 beaver dams, but no lodge or beavers.  If you can get good directions, it's only 30 minutes from Seattle.  Click here for a slideshow of the: Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Gardens Fail

Here are some common reasons why gardens fail in Seattle & everywhere else.

1. The garden was overcome by weeds.

I think this is the most common reason gardens fail.  Even experienced gardeners have trouble keeping up with weeds in a newly planted space.  Neophytes have no idea how much time weeding can take.  You should probably be out there at least once a week, scouting for weeds & digging them out.  I can’t count the number of times I have seen the remnants of a garden, completely or partially covered with weeds.  Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor) is particularly vicious.  But even smaller weeds like dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) can quickly spread to cover small plants, depriving them of sunlight & causing them to die.  After several years, the time spent weeding becomes less, as plants grow to shade more of the ground.  Most weed seeds sprout only on ground that is exposed to sunlight. Planting spreading groundcovers will help.  But you will always need to be vigilant about weeds.  A fellow gardener told me that people often ask what he does to control weeds.  His answer, ‘I pull them out.’

2. The garden wasn’t watered often enough during the summer.

New gardens must be watered frequently, sometimes daily, during hot weather when the soil dries quickly.  This is particularly important in Seattle where it barely rains at all during the summer.  Planting in the fall helps plants to establish wide-spreading roots that will help them find moisture when the soil begins to dry.  Avoid planting in the late spring or summer.  It is probably easier to keep plants alive in pots than in the ground.  In either case, you may have to water daily.  Newly planted plants should be checked & watered carefully for 2 summers.  After that, once a week is usually enough, except during very hot weather.  Try to select drought tolerant plants for sunny gardens.

3. Dead plants were not replaced.

I know this is bad news.  But plants die all the time for no good reason.  You should have a budget to replace plants that die each year.  Gardens with lots of empty spaces are not very appealing.  Spreading groundcovers will help to fill empty spaces.  No garden should be without them.  But even so, if a plant is not replaced, especially a shrub or tree, the gap in your garden will be obvious.

4. The garden was poorly planned.

Take the time to plan your garden.  Many people make the mistake of using plants that are not appropriate for the site.  Plants that prefer shade are planted in full sun.  Plants that need sun are planted in shade.  These plants don’t always die.  But they seldom look robust & often look sickly.  Do the research.  This also goes for the size of plants, which is very often under-estimated.  The tags on plants usually give the size in 5 to 10 years.  Many plants get much larger than the size indicated on the tag.  When plants get too large they crowd out other plants, grow onto paths & sidewalks, cover windows, press against the eaves of the house.  While that is bad enough, it often leads to even worse, which is bad pruning.  Many shrubs & trees do not look good when heavily pruned.  The natural form of the plant is as important as the foliage & the flowers. 

5. Shrubs & trees were pruned badly, or not pruned at all.

There are 2 problems I see all the time.  The 1st is bad pruning.  In many cases the plant will never recover its natural beauty.  It really does not look good when every shrub in the garden is sheared into a ball.  And yet, you see it again & again.  Many ‘professional’ gardeners can’t do anything else.  There are many other ways to prune badly, leaving plants looking hacked.  Learn how to do it right.  There are plenty of books & websites that will show you how.  Try The Hillier Gardener's Guide to Trees & Shrubs edited by John Kelly or the Sunset Western Garden Book.   Hire gardeners & arborists with good references.  In Seattle, contact Plant Amnesty to get the names of professionals who know how to prune, or find classes on pruning.  The 2nd problem comes when no pruning is done at all.  The result is a jumble of shrubs & trees with awkward shapes & broken branches.  Nearly everything should be pruned, just not too much.  It takes time, education & experience to get it right.

6. The garden was unloved by its owner.

If everything above has happened to your garden, who would blame you?  But there is something more subtle that can lead to a negative attitude about your garden.  Don’t keep plants you don’t like.  I’ve heard this said many times, ‘I don’t really like that plant, but it’s green & I don’t know what I would replace it with.’  Or they don’t want to spend the money to replace it.  Or they don’t want to go to that much trouble.  But how can you expect to be happy with a garden filled with plants you don’t like?  Get rid of them!  Fill your garden with plants you love.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden

Near the minimal parking area at the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011

On the west-facing bank below the house at the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011 

Colchicum autumnale flowering among the foliage of Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost', Epimedium & Heuchera americana at the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011 

The house at the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011 

 The bank northeast of the house at the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011 

Polystichum setiferum & Smilacina racemosa in the woodland above the house at the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011 

Next to the house at the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011 

Back to the west-facing bank between the house & the parking area at theElisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011 

The view west to the Olympic Mountains & Puget Sound from the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden September 2011 

On a warm & humid day in September I visited the Elisabeth C Miller Botanical Garden with a group of 14 other gardeners.  I had seen the garden once before, perhaps 10 years earlier, in spring.  I remember telling the head gardener then that it was the nicest public garden I had seen.  This time I was not as impressed.  I've seen many more public gardens since my last visit.  I'm sure the time of year made a big difference.  In the Pacific Northwest every garden looks best in spring.  But I was also disturbed by the Miller Garden because it demonstrated something that bothers me about my own garden.  It felt overcrowded.  Elisabeth Miller was an ardent plant collector.  She seems to have packed in as many different plants as she could.  That has been followed by the additions of head gardeners & curators during the years since she donated the garden to the University of Washington upon her death in 1994.  There are now 5,000 taxa on 5 acres, but mostly squeezed into the area around the house.  One of my fellow tourists asked me what I had learned from the garden.  My immediate response was, 'Plant less!'  I heartily recommend visiting the garden.  It is an amazing place guaranteed to give a strong & lasting impression.  Because the garden is located in The Highlands, a private & gated community in the City of Shoreline, just north of the Seattle city limits, the number of people who may visit the garden is limited to no more than 500 people each year, no more than 15 at a time, no more than 30 in a day.  Contact the garden to arrange a tour.

Friday, October 7, 2011

September Garden Pictures & Bloom Times

Achillea millefolium 'Terracotta' & Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge' September 2011

Agapanthus africanus September 2011

Calluna vulgaris 'Wickwar Flame' & Hebe x pimeleoides 'Quicksilver' September 2011

Eucomis comosa September 2011

 Hydrangea arborescens September 2011

Below is a list of plants that began to bloom in my garden in Seattle in September 2011. I recorded the date when the 1st flower opened, not when they were in bud. I think this information is helpful in planning your garden. If you have room for more plants that bloom in August, you can choose something new that will bloom with something you have, or you can fill temporal gaps between blooms.  Nurseries in Seattle usually sell plants when they are in bloom. I have included dates from previous years. Weather conditions probably account for most of the difference in bloom times. September 2011 was  warmer & drier than normal.  The average monthly maximum temperature was 73.5F/23C.  The normal average monthly maximum temperature is 70.5F/21.4C.  The highest temperature was 85F/29.4C, the lowest 46F/7.8C.  We had 1.29 inches of rain, 0.21 less than normal.  It rained on 11 days.  There were 11 cloudy days, 10 partly cloudy days & 11 sunny days.

09-03-11 Cyclamen hederifolium 9-10-10, 9-01-08
09-05-11 Eryngium amethystinum 9-03-10
09-26-11 Arbutus unedo 9-28-10, 9-20-08
09-26-11 Asternovae-angliae 'Hella Lacy' 9-28-10, 9-29-08