Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How to Plan a Garden

Paula commented on my recent gardening post that she doesn’t know where to begin planning a garden. While I’m no expert, I’ve planted a few and can offer suggestions about things to think about.


Creating a garden takes an investment of time and money, but I expect you'll find the reward is well worth it. Gardening can improve your health (gardening gets you outdoors and active), put you in better spirits (digging in dirt is proven to relieve depression), and give you a sense of accomplishment and pride from creating a thing of beauty. 

Before you begin buying plants and digging, though, decide about how much time and money you want to put in. If you're new to gardening, you may want to start with a small piece of ground at first and expand on it as you learn and experience some success.

Money. Perennial plants are more expensive to buy, but provide a needed foundation for your garden. They get bigger from year to year and over time give you more bang for your buck. Annual plants are good fillers and provide color, but you must replace them every year.

Time. “Easy care” gardens are a bit of a myth. Some gardens are easier to care for than others, but you will always have to water, weed, trim, and prune if you want to keep yours looking nice. Bear in mind, too, that although grass requires care, it typically takes less time than a garden to keep up. You might want to keep most of your yard in grass. Incidentally, you can save some work by letting your lawn go completely dormant in the summer.

Sun and shade

Next consider the garden space itself. How much sun and shade does it get? How does this change with the seasons? Some plants need full sun most of the day, some can only live in a shady spot, and others thrive in part sun, part shade. You’ll need to pick out the right plants for your location. The garden center plant tag will tell you how much sun or shade the plant requires.
A shaded garden needs shade-loving plants.

Roses need full sun.

Soil type

What type of soil do you have? Unless the area was previously used for a garden, the soil is probably less than perfect. Is it full of clay, and difficult to dig up, or is it sandy so it dries out too quickly? You will probably need to amend the soil with the right ingredients to correct these conditions. For clay soil, use sand, peat, and compost to help keep the soil from compacting around the plant roots and suffocating them. For sandy soil, use lots and lots of compost to help retain moisture and provide nutrients. When you add soil amendments, dig them into at least the top six inches. Your goal should be to end up with soil that you can easily scoop up in your hand. When you squeeze it, it should hold a shape that easily falls apart.

Another aspect of soil is acidity and alkalinity. Generally, soils in rainy climates like we have here in the Pacific Northwest are acidic. Acid loving plants like rhododendrons, camellias, heathers and heaths, and azaleas love this soil. Other plants do not. To make the soil more alkaline, you can add lime. Pick up a PH gauge at your local garden store and use it to analyze your soil and figure out how much lime you need to add, if any. As your garden center pro what type of soil your chosen plants need. Also, be sure to plant acid loving plants apart from your alkaline loving plants so they can all thrive in the right soil type.


Most plants need an inch of water a week, either from rain or watering. Xeriscaping is a good idea, but even in a xeriscape, you need to water plants for the first two years to get them established. Watering a garden by hand minimizes the amount of water you use, but is very time-consuming. Other options are putting in an underground watering system, usually on a timer or designing your garden space to make it easy to cover with a sprinkler or other types of above-ground watering gadgets. Some people collect water in rain barrels or cisterns to use for their landscape watering needs.

Garden design

It’s a good idea to draw a scale picture of your garden and plant placement so you can make sure it’s going to work. One garden design approach that I like calls for papas, mamas, and babies. Papas are full-size trees like oak, maple, fir, elm, etc. Mamas are smaller trees like cherry and Japanese maple and extra-large shrubs. Babies are smaller shrubs. The principal says for every papa have three mamas and for every mama have nine babies. Then fill in with the smallest shrubs and plants. In a small yard like ours, a cherry tree serves as the papa, and we scale down from there. Generally, you place the tallest plants in the back of the garden and add progressively shorter plants moving towards the front.

An interesting garden design combines plants with different leaf shapes and foliage colors for contrast. If you plan to use flowering plants, consider colors and timing of the blooms. Do you want an impressive flower bed that looks spectacular during one season, or do you want your garden to be interesting and colorful for three, or even four seasons? Visit your garden center at different times of the year and see what plants are featured. Note which ones you like the best and will fit with your overall design. Also, be sure to include plants that keep their foliage year-round to avoid having a barren garden in the winter.
This garden has lots of contrasting foliage colors and shapes.
Roses bloom all summer and fall.

Rhododendrons showy blooms last for only a few weeks in the spring.

Even though their bloom time is limited, rhododendrons keep their leaves all year round and keep your garden from looking barren in the winter.

Plant selection

In addition to foliage shape and color, pay attention to plant size. If the tag on a shrub says it will grow 5 feet high and wide in 10 years, realize that it will grow to at least 10 feet in 20 years. This consideration is particularly important with trees because they’re hard to move. If you plant a small tree right next to your house, and it grows too large for its allotted space, you’re probably going to need to cut it down. While you can prune trees and shrubs to make them smaller, they have a way of quickly growing back to their natural size. With trees, also consider the root system. Does the tree have a tap root that grows downwards, or does it have roots that spread and can eventually crack patios, sidewalks, and even your foundation if placed too close?


Every rule of gardening can be broken successfully if done with care. You can place acid lovers and alkaline lovers in the same part of your garden if you treat the soil around each one according to its preference. You can put tall plants in front of short plant to a dramatic effect. Spikey flowering plants work very well in front of shorter bushier plants, for example.

And just like living room furniture, you can move plants around. If one gets too big for its location, it may be possible to dig it up and move it or simply remove it and replace it with something else. If you get tired of part of your design, go ahead and change it. Rip out old plants and put in new ones. It’s your garden, after all. Enjoy it!
Peonies bloom for a few weeks in spring, but their foliage remains attractive through the summer. In winter, it dies down to the ground.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Planting a New Pacific Northwest Shade Garden

My Plants for Pacific Northwest shade gardens post of several years ago has been so popular that I decided to write about the new shade garden we started in 2011.

Here's a view from our kitchen window last year when the Foxglove and blue Campanula were blooming. The tree with the white leaves is a Japanese Maple called Floating Cloud. Creating interest in the front row with colorful foliage is a Chocolate Huechera and a chartreuse Feverfew. 
In 2010, we moved into a 1945 cottage in Seattle. The previous homeowners weren't gardeners, so there wasn't much in the way of plant life in our small city yard. The view out our kitchen window was particularly dismal, and we made it a top priority to change it. One problem was an ugly concrete retaining wall between our yard and the backyard neighbor's. To cover it up, we decided to use plants along the wall that would grow up tall and wide. Because the area is shaded by a large European Bird Cherry, we used shade-tolerant rhododendrons and camellias. Once they got big, they would create a lovely green screen year-round.

Here's what the back corner of the garden looked like in 2013, two years after we started planting things. You can see why we wanted to cover up the concrete wall, not to mention the metal stripping at the bottom of the neighbor's garage, which you can see above the wall. In front of the wall we planted four camellias that will eventually grow 10 feet or taller and three rhododendronsk that will also grow quite tall and bushy. In this photo, you can see the King George Loderi species rhododendron to the right of the tree. Full grown, it will be quite large.
Here's what that part of the garden looks like this afternoon. King George has grown up to almost cover the neighbor's garage window.

Here's a photo taken after we planted a Bleeding Heart between King George and the tree, Rhododendron Nancy Evans is in the front of the photo, and a tree fern is to her left. We filled in with some Irish moss for groundcover. Blue bells to the left came with the yard. I'm still trying to control them. :|

Rhododendron Anna Kruschke with her magenta blooms covers quite a bit of concrete, and very prettily.

Rhododendron Honey Butter, my personal favorite.
We've used Rhododendron Nancy Evans in several places. In this photo, she's in full bloom. The earlier photo shows the color of her buds, which have a lot of orange. Rhododendron Mrs. Furnival is in the upper left corner of the photo.
Behind the glider is a Chinese tree rhododendron. It will grow very tall. You may see why we've nicknamed her Audrey III. It looks like she's about to eat the glider. To the left of the tree rhodie is a Vine Maple tree. In front of the glider is a Chocolate Heuchera (aka Coral Bells) that provides foliage contrast. In the bottom left isOxalis ground cover. Ferns fill in between larger plants throughout the garden.
King George Loderi buds. The flowers in full bloom are huge.
Rhododendron Mrs. Furnival
We tucked Evergreen huckleberries here and there, and get to enjoy fresh berries in our pancakes in the summer.
We put in lots of Hostas of different colors and sizes to cover ground and create interest. Here's a blue-leafed one along with an Oregon Grape.
False Solomon's Seal
There are several types of self-seeding plants throughout the landscape. They come up randomly and fill in garden space with foliage and color. If I don't like where a plant has come up, I simply pull it out. In this photo are Forget-me-nots and Columbine in blue and white. We also have a lot of Foxglove with their dramatic tall flower spikes.
You might also like:
How to Plan a Garden
Plants for Pacific Northwest Shade Gardens

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Native Shade Garden in Sydney -- Year Two

Native shade garden in Sydney, Australia -- Year Two

In April 2013 I visited my daughter, Liz, in Sydney, Australia, and wrote a post about a native shade garden she was planting. Liz has continued working on the garden, and here's her update on progress:

Phase I is now complete!

I'll start with the failures:

Not everything has worked in this garden, and bush turkeys were a big issue initially. Because they forage in the soil, they are particularly drawn to areas that have been recently disturbed, and if the plants are too small (less than about 30 cm), the turkeys will pull them out by their stem or just snap them in half. The native gingers fell victim, and the burrawang cycad (Macrozamia communis) was defoliated. Two unfortunate losses, as both would have offered something different to the garden from the simple flowering plants. We also lost a flax lily and a native indigo to the turkeys, but I had them in multiple so they still have a presence in the garden. The Kangaroo fern died slowly from some incurable unhappiness, and the strap water fern looks like going in the same direction but it hangs in there for now.


The Chinese wisteria has been 95% successfully removed and I will finish the job this summer. I used a 50/50 mix of tree poison and kerosene applied liberally to a freshly cut stump. The kangaroo vine is now in its place and taking off like a rocket. I hope I didn't make a mistake there! All the plants other than ferns were tubestock when I planted them, and some are just now getting to a regular nursery size. Others have already reached their full height and spread, including the native indigo, which is now taller than me and bursting with flowers in the spring (it was stunning!). All of the original non-invasive ferns (I think they are common ground ferns) have taken well to being transplanted and spread around the garden.


I have added a number of new plants (see the list below). Some of them are transplants from this garden or a friend's, others were nursery purchases and a few are propagation successes from a local parkland.

And bees! I applied for a native stingless beehive from the council two years ago and finally made it to the top of the waiting list. They aren't for honey, just a bit of ecosystem repair and a talking point. They now live in a sunny corner of the shade garden and the colony will be split every spring (when possible).

A box full of native stingless bees for the garden

Phase II is now underway!

I gave some time (ok, an entire weekend) to the smaller upper level of garden mess that sits beneath the tall camelia. Once I cleared the area, I placed some silver lady ferns (Blechnum gibbum) and a prostrate geebung (Persoonia chamaepitys), as well as some transplanted ferns. Most of this space is deep shade, so will require true shade-lovers. The planting continues...
Silver lady ferns and a prostrate geebun keep the camila company


I have laid very course gum tree chips over the entire area which get refreshed yearly. The garden also gets a native fertilizer about every three months (or whatever the packet suggests), and the ferns get an additional handful of compost whenever I have it available. Since the first summer passed, I only water when the plants look limp, which is only on the hottest days, and weeds are a non-issue. This garden now needs less attention than any other area of our property, which is an amazing transformation from its original state.

Wildlife results

Birds are regular visitors to the garden, the main attraction being the birdbath - butcher birds, rainbow lorikeets and noisy miners all come daily, and a rare king parrot has made a visit. Lack of interest in the plants is probably due to a combination of causes. This is the first year of blooms for several of the flowering plants, including the lomandra and native indigo, but the cordylines, tuckeroo, and banksia remain flower-free. Additionally, none of the plants are large enough to host a perching bird, but perhaps next year we will see a change as the banksia looks set to take off with a growth spurt this summer. Turkeys still forage regularly through the garden, but the plants are all big enough to withstand the occasional partial exhumation. For all their trouble, the turkeys are still some of my
favorite garden visitors.

Lizards and amphibians are either rare or well camouflaged. One aspect the garden lacks is a decent ground cover, and this would definitely encourage the smaller vertebrate visitors.

The list of new plants

Lindsea linearis - Screw fern, a very distinct-looking small, upright fern
Calochlaena dubia - Common ground fern
Blechnum gibbum - Silver lady fern/dwarf tree fern
Cyathea australis - Tree fern, grows to 6 m with long, broad fronds up to 4 m each
Hakea sericea - Silky hakea, foliage provides protection for small birds and flowers attract birds
Persoonia chamaepitys - Creeping geebung, provides low cover for lizards, flowers attract birds
Correa glabra - Native fuchsia, attracts honeyeater birds
Correa baeuerlenii - Native fuchsia, attracts honeyeater birds
Scaevola aemula - Fairy fan flower, a bit of summer color in an otherwise very green garden
Hardenbergia violacea - Native sarsparilla, provides low cover for lizards, improves soil and attracts seed eating birds and insects
Cupaniopsis parvifolia - Small-leaved tuckeroo, small dry rainforest tree to 6 m (in NSW), fruit attracts birds and butterflies

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Garbanzo Bean Pancakes (Gluten Free)

Hypo-allergenic Garbanzo Bean Pancakes
By popular demand, here's my recipe for hypo-allergenic garbanzo bean pancakes. Due to severe food allergies, I don't eat any grains except for rice, and eat no eggs, so traditional pancakes are out. These pancakes are more than just a substitute, though. They taste wonderful and keep my blood sugar stable for hours because they're high in protein.

I mix up a batch of batter on Sunday and keep it in the refrigerator all week, taking out just enough to make a pancake breakfast each morning. The pancakes also work as "bread" for almond butter or peanut butter sandwiches.

Note that while I list some ingredients as optional, make your best effort to include them because they really help the flavor and texture of the pancakes.

  • 2 cups garbanzo flour (I just switched to sprouted organic flour from To Your Health Sprouted Flour Company, and it's really good!)
  • 1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill* Potato Starch (optional - for a "crumb")
  • 1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill Coconut Flour (optional - for moisture and flavor)
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of sweet potato flour (optional - for moisture and sweetness). If you don't have sweet potato flour, then add 2 heaping tablespoons additional coconut flour.
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 to 6 ounces plain, unflavored goat or cow yogurt or kefir (omit for vegan pancakes)
  • 2 cups water -- enough to make a batter
  • Baking soda -- or if you omit the yogurt, use baking powder instead. If you're allergic to corn starch, as I am, then mix together equal parts of baking soda and cream of tarter instead of using baking powder. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon per cup of batter just before cooking.
  • Coconut or other cooking oil
  • Dried or fresh blueberries
  • Non-stick griddle (one that's non-toxic!)
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients except for the baking soda, and then mix in the water. Stir in the yogurt. If necessary, add a little bit more water to make the mixture "stir-able," but still slightly firm. If possible, store the mixture in the fridge overnight. This allows the garbanzo flour to really soak up the water.

To make four pancakes -- two each for Bill and I -- I put about 1 cup of the mixture into a bowl, add a bit of water as needed to make it the consistency of pancake batter, then stir in a couple handfuls of blueberries and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (no baking powder for me because of a corn allergy).

I preheat a non-stick griddle to medium heat and cook the pancakes in about 1/2 teaspoon of coconut spread. You can use some other type of cooking oil, if you prefer, but the coconut oil gives nice results and great flavor.

*Bob's Red Mill products are non-GMO, and some of them are organic, although not the garbanzo flour, which is why I've recently switched. My worst food allergies have developed in the last 10 years, since GMO foods have proliferated, and I suspect they could be the source of some of my issues.
Garbanzo pancake and almond butter sandwich. Mmmmmm good!

Sunday, September 22, 2013


German Shepherds of the Bird World

Our neighbor's two darling kittens have grown up to be lethal bird catchers, so keeping cats out of our yard and away from the feathered morsels at the bird feeders [sigh] is a continuing, occupation. After some experimentation (yelling, arm waving, chasing, paper snapping), I've found that watering the cats with a Super Soaker convinces them to skip our backyard in their search for prey. Recently, though, our next-door neighbor's sweet little kitten has also developed an unhealthy fascination with the bird feeder. Much as I hate doing it, I also treat that kitty to a super soak every time I see her in the backyard. [Update. The kitty, named Quira, has learned to visit me while I'm gardening in the front yard and entirely avoid the back. Who says cats can't be trained?]

Fortunately, I don't have to spend all day watching out the back window for cats. Bertram, Corvina, and Ned have turned out to be watchbirds and caw persistently when there's a cat in the yard. There is no ignoring the noise, or mistaking it for anything but a demand for cat mitigation measures. At first, the crows cawed at cats hanging out in other yards, too, but gave it up when they learned that their fuss only works in our yard.

Bertram warns the other yardbirds about a predatory cat. 

I thought this warning behavior might be unique to "my" crows, but a couple of weeks ago I watched a crow caw angrily at a bus that had hit a seagull. The crow sat on the wire over the bus stop and cawed at that bus and every other bus that came during the 15 minutes I was standing there. Crows also take action towards predatory birds during nesting season. When hawks and eagles try to raid a crow's nest, they flock from the surrounding areas and gang up on the predators, hassling them until they give up and leave.

Dr. John Marzluff, at the University of Washington, is very interested in how crows share knowledge with one another about "dangerous humans,"--humans who have trapped and banded them for research and then released them. From my personal observations, though, it isn't just humans that crows mob, but anything that represents a danger- a hawk, an eagle, a cat--or even a bus. Crows are to other birds world like German Shepherds are to people: watchers, warners, and sometimes even attackers.

Go Bertram!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fun and Exhausting

Saturday's reception at Habitude was so much fun. Thanks to those who came. It was my first experience being the focus of an art event rather than being the hostess or one artist among others, and being a typical introvert, I found it both enjoyable and exhausting. Ten paintings were sold, which I found astounding. I'm so glad they've found good homes!

Here I am with my superhero, Bill, who hung most of the 29 paintings that were displayed.

This is my Personified Pears series.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My work will be featured on the June Ballard Artwalk

I was thrilled to receive an invitation from Habitude Salon, Spa, and Gallery to be their featured artist for the June 8 Artwalk in Ballard. Please join me there between 6 and 9 PM for a wine and snacks reception!

Habitude Salon, Spa, and Gallery
2801 NW Market Street,
Seattle, WA 98107


My original watercolor paintings will remain on display there through July 10.