Friday, September 30, 2011

My new little gardening friend...

Milo, our eight weeks old Portuguese water dog came home two days ago. She is interested in just about everything, sniffing and chewing her way through our house and garden. After her exhausting puppy toils, she falls asleep wherever she happens to be. We'll see how much gardening will get done during the next couple of weeks...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Naked ladies, next door

 'Naked ladies', Colchicum autumnale, with Geraniums and Tanacetums in my neighbors garden.

A dear old gardening lady lives just a couple of houses from us, and these luxuriant bulbs are now blossoming against a tapestry of small flowers in her front yard. Her garden is full of carefully planned combinations like this; just look how well the purple-pink petals and sunny stamens of the 'naked ladies' pick up the tones of the delicate purple veining of the Geraniums and the yellow buttons of the Tanacetums. So pretty. While passing, I always think how her garden is so not my style, but I love seeing it anyway. I guess it is the joy of gardening that I enjoy, so evident in everything she does.

My own 'Naked ladies' don't seem to have any lust of showing themselves this year. I don't know what has happened. They produced huge, lush leaves after last season's flowers faded, so I thought they were doing well and ready to bloom again this autumn. But now, nothing. Maybe they would like to have prettier companions around them, like my neighbors do?

Friday, September 23, 2011

You talkin' to me?

Just met this Doll's eyes plant (Actaea pachypoda), staring me down with its crooked little eyeballs at the Bellevue Botanical gardens. Although aesthetically interesting, I still find it a bit creepy; there is something crazy, almost sinister in its expression. And not without a reason; the whole plant is highly toxic, just a couple of berries are enough to cause a cardiac arrest and even death.  Perfect for a garden with a Halloween theme...?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Transplanting wayward Miscanthus babies

While weeding an embarrassingly neglected part of my garden, I just found eight little Miscanthus babies amongst the other thugs. I didn't even know Miscanthus grasses self-seed, and especially not that they just in one season produce sturdy little babies that would perfectly fit a pint sized container.

I'd been thinking of sowing some tall grasses to fill up an area that desperately needs some 'vertical interest', but now I just moved these little guys there, hoping that they'll grow as fast they have until now. There are still several smaller seedlings left that I can add to the group later.

I'm not sure if this is a good decision, or if I will end up with a forest of Miscanthus in a couple of years from now. Still, I just couldn't resist using these cheeky little guys, they just looked so keen on being a part of my garden.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Very green, and only green

In his book The Education of a Gardener, Russell Page describes a small garden in the middle of Paris as following:

"I went down a narrow flight of steps into another world, a dark and shady wood, utterly restful, with no disturbing element and no hint that at any point one was only a few yards from the busy street. The achievement was remarkable and the means most ordinary.

There were a few old trees underplanted with yews allowed to grow quite freely; ivy was used to cover the high surrounding walls and to carpet the ground. A gravel path wandered about in this maze of green; and that was all. In this particular case, (the gardener) not only accepted the very limited possibilities, but achieved a remarkable garden.

Since it had to be shady, he made it very shady, and since green is precious in the city, he made his garden very green and only green."

"Since it had to be shady, he made it very shady, and since green is precious in the city, he made his garden very green and only green". This is one of my favorite lines in gardening literature, ever; a brilliant summary of how  the discipline (and courage) of keeping things simple while carrying out one's idea based on the character and qualities of one's site is the key to creating a 'remarkable' garden. Finding the 'very green and only green' of a garden is the most difficult but also the most rewarding problem of making a garden, and I think that no one has described it better than Russell Page is that short, eloquent paragraph.

Pictures from the Bloedel Reserve, a garden whose owners definitely understood the 'very green and only green' of their garden. As I've mentioned a couple of times, The Education of a Gardener by Russell Page (1962) is one of my favorite gardening books. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In the belly of a sunken porcelain cargo ship...

In July, on our short trip to Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden, I visited Trädgårdsföreningen, the Garden Society of Gothenburg. Just a stone's throw from the city centre, these are one of the best preserved 19th century gardens in Sweden, and seem always be full of appreciating citizens and visitors, exploring the well-preserved Palmhouse from 1878 and rambling around the many themed gardens.

Since a couple years had passed since my previous visit, I found some new additions to this well-loved park. One of them was a 'grotto' designed by art director Nina Thalinson and architect Gert Wingårdh called The Sunken Garden. Nina and Gert had been inspired both by classical English sunken gardens and the Swedish East Indiaman Götheborg, that sank in 1745 only 900 meters from its home harbour in Gothenburg while approaching it after a 30-month trip to China.

Constructed like a stylized ship, visitors walk into this garden like into a cave, shaded by a vegetative laser-cut steel roof hang on steel beams and surrounded by dark-coloured concrete walls. An abundant, romantic planting in green, white, pink and burgundy tones - always a safe and stylish combination -  flows over the walls, offering a soft contrast to the no-nonsense, industrial materials. Everything was, as expected, well-designed, modern and even trendy.  But what I especially liked, was a 12-meter long waterfall wall that ran along one of the sides. Like a giant mosaic, this wall was covered with delicately painted blue and white Chinese porcelain fragments, excavated and rescued from the sunken remains of the original ship after spending over 250 years in the cold waters of the Nordic sea.

Looking at all these porcelain pieces, once exclusive and elaborately painted dishes made by Chinese artisans and then carried across the seas by Swedish merchants, immediately tickled my imagination. They made me think about the skilled hands painting them, knowing nothing of the countries where the results of their work would be sent; about the long and dangerous voyage through the seas; and about the people who waited for the ship with its precious cargo for 30 months, only to see it sink in front of their eyes. How maddeningly disappointing it must have been, even if no lives were lost. Gazing at those glistening blue and white pieces, once again covered with water, made the sunken garden feel like a great memento for all the work and effort - however commercial in its original nature - that went wasted. At the same time, it felt stragely comforting, reminding me that luckily, the little disappointments of my fast, modern life seldom are at the same scale. Which I think is not a bad achievement for any garden, and especially not for a small, imaginative one.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Late summer notes from my front yard...

A vase-formed Japanese tree Zelkova serrata on the left. I like its distinct form and serrated leaves that shiver with the smallest breath of wind. Behind it, a large, old Japanese maple with purplish leaves, it looks like a huge wig... The tall shrub by the chimney is a Cornus kousa var. chinensis. A group of Viburnum tinus and Camellia Nuccio's pearl, which don't really show in the picture, but stay green through the winter months. Otherwise, hydrangeas (unfortunately blue, I would prefer white oak-leaf hydrangeas instead, but I don't have the heart to dig up these oldies...), a couple of varieties of hostas, hellebores, Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning light', variegated ground elder (suck!), and a bit of Sedum. And bulbs, like snowdrops, white Crocus Jeanne d'Arc and Narcissus Thalia.

Why do I think it is so embarrassing to publish pictures of my garden? Somehow, it feels a bit too public, too revealing, even if I think it is perfectly natural for others to do so. Anyway, here are some pictures from today morning, and now I have to go back and hyperventilate for a while. These are from the entrance to our house in Seattle. It is from the 60s and designed by Ralph Anderson, a local architect of Scandinavian origin. He worked in the Pacific Northwest contemporary style, which took influences from Japanese and Scandinavian design - even the garden has many plants of Asian origin. The house sits well in the landscape, following the terrain instead of dominating it; built on 4 half-levels, it opens up to the back high above the hill. 

Between the entrance above and the street, there is an island bed with both evergreens and perennials, first picture facing north and second south. This is where the lavender in the previous post grows, now cut back and all grey. Usually, it flowers again after the big chop, but this year spring was so late that I don't think it will have time to do so. Sedums are in full bloom now, a bit boring but very tolerant of drought and completely hardy. I'll add some Allium schubertii bulbs here for next spring, so that they poke up from the Dwarf English laurel (which does not show so well, but it is there between the sedums and lavender...). Otherwise, I would like to loosen this up, get some more movement into it, but I'm not quite sure how.

And this is our entrance, with my reflection on the front door. I love large pots, and can never get enough of them. I don't know how to transport them all to Sweden, when that day comes. I really would love to take some of my plants with me too, but they would not survive nearly three months in an international moving container. I'll have to figure out something. This year, I didn't plant any flowering things here as we were away for such a long time, but these perennials - Daphne odora, hellebores, grasses, an asparagus fern etc - survived the random watering very well. Also, we love gathering seashells and 'special' stones on the beaches; I keep them in a large, low terracotta bowl by the entrance as mementos of our beach trips (the large round shell in the middle is my favorite...).

View from the entrance out to the street, which you can't even see - the large plant island really provides privacy here, so I like it despite its 'shrubbiness'. The large washed seastone paving is not my favorite, but it really is typical of the 60s (the house was renovated in 2007; in the garden, original materials were used...), so it will stay. My favorite is the beautifully scented Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' on the corner, it fills the whole area with its heavenly scent during late winter and early spring. And now - happy weekend!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Dry, golden, mellow

We're living through the last glorious days of summer. Like a misbehaving guest who arrived embarrassingly late to the party, it now refuses to leave, trying to make up for the mistake by showing just how charming it can be... It has been hot and balmy, with temperatures raising over 80/25 degrees for days; I find it difficult to fathom that autumn with its ubiquitous rainproof jackets is lurching just around the corner.  
The sky is bright and high, and lawns start to turn brown. This August, Seattle got only 0.13 inches/0.33 cm of rain, and September still hasn't seen its first drops. Surprisingly, nature here does not seem to be especially bothered by the lack of water. Due to the cold and wet spring, trees and shrubs carry a heavy coat of greenery, but despite all dry days, they still look great, showing no stress or signs of thirst at least by the coast. I'm not sure how they manage, but maybe they just are used to this yearly cycle of wet and dry, as most of the rain Seattle is so famous for really only falls between the months of October and May. 

There are no water restrictions, so I've been watering my garden, even if most of it would probably do quite well without my help. In the front garden, a fraction of which is pictured above, long drifts of Spanish lavender alternate with Sedums which are now in full bloom. Both species mingle with five large stone boulders, groups of evergreens like dwarf English laurels, burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) and five Magnolia grandifloras, just to mention a few. This autumn, I'm thinking of adding some Alliums to send up their little fireworks between the dwarf laurels next spring.
The western side of the front garden needs some work, too. The skeleton is fine, with burning bushes, dark purple smoke bushes and groupings of Viburnum davidii forming soft mounds, all of which are amazingly drought tolerant and hardy. But then, several azaleas were planted in this area, which is completely insane as it faces full west, with no shade during the whole day. Quite expected, many of them have died, leaving screaming cavities behind. I've always found this planting too shrubby, so now I can soften it up and breathe some life and movement into this area. I've been looking at tall grasses, like Stipa giganteas or Molinia caeruleas, to be planted plant in large wavy bands between the shrubs. Then, I'm thinking of adding some spiky perennials like Perowskias and Agastaches, and accent bulbs, maybe Alliums or even Eremurus between the grasses and lower shrubs. We'll see. But until any work can be done, the rains need to start, so it seems that I still have some time for planning...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Digging the DIG

This huge rusty iron sphere got on my 'would-love-to-have' list directly... such a presence.

The school is starting next Tuesday, so we got into a serious 'last days of summer vacation - let's make the most of it' frenzy... So despite having last Sunday visited DIG Nursery on Vashon Island near Seattle, which I think must be one of the most charming nurseries on this part of the country, I still haven't had time to post one single photo of it until now. 

More rusty details: repurposed steel drawers were planted with succulents and miniature conifers; you could make a low wall out of these as a divider for garden spaces.

Pots and containers of all forms and sizes; I can never get enough of well-made ceramic pots. Many of these would happily have followed me home, if my budget would only had allowed it...

I've been followed by a glaring sunshine where ever I have been this summer (which is nice from the vacation point of view, but less preferable for taking photos of any further quality), so the pictures here don't do justice to the very pleasing experience of visiting the DIG Nursery. I had heard about it from a friend for a while ago, but as getting there is a bit of a hike involving a ferry trip, I'd unfortunately postponed it to a undefined future. This is a pity, as DIG turned to be just the kind of nursery that I love, with a thoughtful and personal touch to everything on display. Their selection of grasses, succulents and other garden plants is excellent, but what I loved most was their creative displays of pots and vessels of all kinds, from new, sleek and chic to repurposed, buckled and rusty. Sometimes planted with delicate grasses and sometimes with grand conifers, the combinations filling the ground were always interesting and stylish. And even if I'm not usually fond of an overflow of decorative items, I found here quite a few temptations that I would love to see somewhere in my garden...

My youngest daughter got her doggie-fix by playing with Sophia, who was cooling down in her clever house made out of a concrete culvert and complete with a flowering sedum roof.

Cattle feed troughs were used for kitchen gardens plantings, and here a huge one was raised up as a gazebo to provide both shade and protect from rain - a clever and unusual 'farming chic' solution.

My older daughter, tired from the sun, took fancy in this bright tangerine bench; I loved the sedum-filled rusty steel containers that were hanging on the gabion walls that act as space dividers in the nursery.   

Address and more on DIG's own beautiful website.