Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Plants for Pacific Northwest Shade Gardens

My sisters were just asking for ideas about what to put in a moist, shady garden, which prompted this post. If you have such a place in your yard and are at a loss for what to put in, here are some ideas. I've found these plants have done well in the cool, maritime climate and acidic soil of Western Washington. At the end of this post are photos of a few of these plants from my gardens. Update: Yesterday I got some photos of shade plants at the Arboretum exhibit, "Bird Song" at the 2012 Flower and Garden Show. You'll find them at the end of this post.

Tips: Put the tallest plants in the back of the garden, and work forward according to size. Mix the plants with spiky flowers in with the bushier plants. Pacific Northwest natives are starred. * Natives are good because they require less care and support local wildlife. If you can't find them at a mainstream nursery, look for a native plant nursery either locally or online. See also the Washington Native Plant Society page.

Perennial plants from short to tall:
  • Iris moss - 1 inch (There are lots of different kinds of moss that are beautiful in a shade garden.)
  • Creeping Jenny (ground cover, yellow green, evergreen, likes to drape down things like sides of rockeries) - 1 inch 
  • Do not plant variegated ground elder. It will take over your entire garden and yard. Bill calls it a bio hazard.
  • Periwinkle/Vinca minor (dense dark evergreen ground cover with periwinkle blue flowers) - 2 inches
  • Native violet* (dainty. I personally love these) - 2 inches
  • Anemone (bulb. little blue flowers in spring. leaves die off in summer) - 3 inches
  • Grape hyacinth (bulb. small plant with bright blue flowers in early spring) - 4 inches
  • English Primrose - 4 inches
  • Bunchberry dogwood* (Ground cover with evergreen, dogwood-type leaves and white flowers that turn into berries.)  - 4 inches
  • Cyclamen (bulb. Flowers in late winter. Foliage dies out in summer. Needs dry shade.) - 6 inches
  • Western Trillium * - 6-8 inches
  • English Violet - 6 inches
  • Deer Fern * (the Hardy Fern Foundation is a great resource for ferns) - 6 inches
  • Oxalis* (ground cover - looks like 4-leaf clover, only leaves are much bigger and its a beautiful emerald green. needs rich soil, as in amended with compost) - 6 inches
  • Salal* (a native with wonderful evergreen foliage. florists use it a lot in bouquets) - 6 - 18 inches
  • Holly Fern *  - less than 1 ft
  • Coral bells (comes in a variety of colors, easy to care for) - 1 ft
  • False Solomon’s Seal * - 18 inches
  • Columbine* (biannual. self-seeding, blooms 2nd year. tall flower spikes. Nice leaves) - 18 inches
  • Astilbe (tall flower spikes in summer. a bit fussy. expensive. needs lots of water. a lot of people love them.) - 2 ft
  • Oregon grape* (Evergreen holly-like foliage. These can get leggy, so get one of the lower-growing varieties) - 2 to 4 ft
  • Aster* (tall flower spikes)  - 2-1/2 ft
  • Pacific Bleeding Heart * I love these because of the airy foliage and drooping flowers - 2-1/2 ft
  • Campanula (one of my favorite garden flowers - bell shaped flowers on tall spikes) - 2-1/2 ft
  • Hosta (hostas can cover a lot of bare ground. they come in all types of sizes with different colors of green, stripes, etc. They die to the ground in winter and come back in late spring. I love them!) - 2-1/2 ft + or - a foot
  • Iris * (natives are on the short end of the range) - 2-6  ft
  • Hellebore (Blooms in winter. Has fleshy stems and leaves. Grows in a somewhat random habit.) - 3 ft
  • Sword Fern * - 3 ft
  • Foxglove (biannual, self-seeding, blooms in second year. leaves are poisonous, so not good in a yard with young children). I just found this site that has lots of different varieties. - 3 ft
  • Evergreen huckleberry* (small bush with berries for birds)  - 4 ft
  • Deciduous huckleberry* (ditto)  - 4 ft
  • Hardy fuchsia (these can get large. Plant root ball at least 6 inches below ground level to protect from freezing. See also the Northwest Fuchsia Society) - up to 5 ft
  • Tree fern * (grows to be tree-like.) - 6 ft or more. 
  • Wood fern * Not as sturdy as a tree fern. Dies down to the ground in winter and comes back in spring.
  • Native honeysuckle vine * (dark glossy green leaves with fragrant orange flowers that attract hummingbirds. Leaves fall off in winter, so don't plant it all by itself in a focal position.)
  • Kalmia (aka Mountain Laurel. expensive to buy but has beautiful evergreen foliage and flowers) - 4 ft
  • Hydrangea (always one of my very favorites. Looses leaves in winter.) - 5 ft
  • Shade- or partial shade-loving rhododendrons * (Evergreen. Some varieties are native, and not generally the ones found in gardens, but essentially all of them do well in our climate. Can get very large, but are relatively easy to move if they outgrow their spot.) - 3 to 20 ft
  • Shade- or partial shade-loving evergreen azaleas (not deciduous azaleas, which need sun) 2 to 5 ft
  • Snowberry * (native deciduous bush with white berries) -  5 ft
  • Camelia (Glossy evergreen leaves. Can grow very large, but you can get smaller varieties.)
  • Snowball bush - vibernum (Deciduous leaves. Clusters of stems grow straight up from the ground, up to 20 feet high. Has the wonderful white flower balls in late spring.)
  • Vine maple *
  • Japanese maple
In the center foreground is a Yak rhododendron aptly named "Mardi Gras" because it will have gaudy pink, white, and purple blooms in late spring. Volunteer iris is growing up between its leaves. To the left is the newly planted hosta and some more iris. To the right is a Crocosmia, which I call the "hummingbird" plant because the hummers love it. In summer it has 5-foot long spikes covered with small, bright orange flowers. 
Camelia can grow 20 or 30 feet tall, although there are varieties that stay much smaller. They come in a variety of pink and red colors.
Hydrangea. To make next year's flowers pink, add lime to the soil. For blue, leave the soil acid. For in between, like these, go halfway with the lime.
Common floxglove stands tall against the fence. To the left in back is the tall iris foliage (will have yellow blooms). In front you can see a small vine maple that we'd recently planted. It's the one with reddish tinge on the leaves. It will grow up to 20 or so feet tall. To the right is some sort of crabapple tree with draping branches.
Fancy foxglove I got at the nursery. I call it the Beatrix Potter foxglove because it looks like the ones pictured in her books.
Variegated and plain hosta, center, sword fern, back left, in front of the fern is native iris and in front of that is English primrose. To the right of the primrose is Irish moss, then another foxglove. Behind the foxglove is oxalis. In the far back is a Fortunei rhododendron.
Native violet in foreground. Behind it is foxglove and then hosta. Further back is a large sword fern. To the right of the sword fern is bleeding heart. More oxalis in front of that and then another foxglove.
Lady ferns surround a Jean Marie De Montague rhododendron. Columbine grows under the rhodie and sends spikes of blue and white flowers up in between the rhodie's leaves.
Iris fronted by feverfew (not a good shade plant, BTW). This iris grows to about 2 feet with flowers another foot taller.
Coral Bark Japanese maple
I took the following photos of shade tolerant (or loving) plants at the Arboretum "Bird Song" display garden at the 2012 Seattle Flower and Garden Show. Most are Northwest natives.
Left front: Mahonia (Oregon Grape). 
Front left: Red twig dogwood. Middle left: Ninebark and then Camelia. In front of the  Paperbark Maple is sword fern.
To the left, Camelia and right with yellow flowers is a Witch Hazel variety.
Red twig dogwood, again. I don't know what the yellow bush is. 
Here's a richly flowered Oregon Grape variety, called Mahonia aquifolium "Orange Flame." I need one of these!
Ninebark in the background and Bunchberry in the foreground.
You can find some more plant ideas in Shady Characters, an article by Valerie Easton, published in Pacific Northwest.

You might also enjoy:

Share this post!

A plant list for temperate, moist, shady locations.

submit to reddit

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Marauding Eagle

Yesterday evening Bill and I were standing under the flowering European Bird cherry in our backyard, when our attention was drawn to a cacophony of cawing overhead. I ran out into the middle of the yard to get a better look, just in time to see dozens of crows chasing a bald eagle. The eagle was flying erratically, trying to avoid the swooping and diving crows.

Flocks of crows chase away the marauding eagle.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rain Gardening for Orcas

Thanks to my friend, Katie, for pointing out that yesterday was Endangered Species day (although wildlife could really use at least a bit of our attention every day). She posted a link to this great article about ten things we can each do to help.

Here in Seattle, the Puget Sound gets runoff from the surrounding areas, which includes a lot of pollutants. As a result, the sea creatures trying to live in it are stressed and their numbers are dwindling, including the beautiful, intelligent Orca ("Killer") whales.

A major contributor to this pollution comes from the sewer system in Seattle, which collects roof and road runoff along with the sewage. Whenever we get a hard rain, the sewer system is overwhelmed, and raw sewage runs into the Sound. Even in areas where raw sewage isn't a problem, rainwater runoff carries all sorts of toxic stuff into lakes, streams, rivers, and the ocean. For details, see the People for Puget Sound's "Polluted Runoff" page.

To help this problem, Bill and I had a rain garden installed to catch the runoff from our roof, filter it through the roots of plants, and return it to the ground water table. We are lucky to be in a zone where the city is testing rain gardens as a solution for the overflow problem, so we got ours for free. Watching the contractor install it, we realized that this isn't rocket science, and the materials are fairly inexpensive: plastic piping to run the water out to the garden, some gravel, some compost, and some plants that don't drown from being occasionally deluged.

Water from the roof is piped into this bowl-shaped garden where it slowly seeps into the ground.
Probably most landscapers could install a rain garden for a reasonable cost, or homeowners who are a bit handy could do it themselves. The main things are to size the garden correctly and remember that water runs downhill. If you're interested in a rain garden, there's a lot of information online about how to make one of your own. A good place to start is the City of Seattle Rainwise site. It has information about planning and about what kind of plants to use in your rain garden. It also has a list of City of Seattle-approved contractors. Richard Cox put in our rain garden.

Happy rain gardening!

PS  Did you know that you can listen to Orca whales talking to each other on the hydrophone network?

PPS The Whale Trail is offering free Orca Steward Training. Learn all about it at their web site. Also check out this FaceBook page: Killer Whale Tales

Share this!

Rain gardens help keep storm water out of the sewer system, and sewage out of Puget Sound.

submit to reddit

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Special Discounts on Photomatix Software

You can now get special discounts on Photomatix software which helps you create HDR photos the easy way. Just click the links in this post for more information or to buy a copy. Important: You must use "MeganSeagren" as your coupon code at checkout.

There are English, Italian, and Japanese language versions. For each language there are three sets of links,
  • "Buy Now" if you're ready to buy. 
  • "Trial Version" if you want to just try it out. 
  • "Product Information" if you just want to read about it. 
Note: Even if you don't buy the software right away, remember to use the "MeganSeagren" coupon code to get your discount at checkout.

I. English-language versions:

"Buy Now":
Photomatix Light for Mac OS X (download delivery)
Photomatix Light for Windows (download delivery)
Photomatix Plug-in for Aperture (- Download delivery)
Photomatix Pro Plus for Mac OS X (download delivery)
Photomatix Pro Plus for Windows (download delivery)
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X (download delivery)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (download delivery)
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Mac OS X (download delivery)
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Windows (download delivery)

Trial Versions:
Photomatix Plug-in for Aperture (download delivery)
Photomatix Pro Plus for Mac OS X (download delivery)
Photomatix Pro Plus for Windows (download delivery)
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X (download delivery)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (download delivery)
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Mac OS X (download delivery)
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Windows (download delivery)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (download delivery)
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Mac OS X (download delivery)
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Windows (download)

Product Information:
Photomatix Plug-in for Aperture
Photomatix Pro Plus for Mac OS X
Photomatix Pro Plus for Windows
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X
Photomatix Pro for Windows
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Mac OS X
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Windows
Photomatix Pro for Windows
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Mac OS X
Tone Mapping Plug-In for Windows

2. Italian-language versions:

"Buy Now":
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X (Italian)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (Italian)

Trial Versions:
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X (Italian)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (Italian)

Product Information:
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X (Italian)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (Italian)

3. Japanese-language versions:

"Buy Now":
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X (Japanese)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (Japanese)

Trial Versions:
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X (Japanese)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (Japanese)

Product Information:
Photomatix Pro for Mac OS X (Japanese)
Photomatix Pro for Windows (Japanese)

Ways to Say "Leo" : Reading the Menu

For a name having only three letters, there are a great many different ways to say "Leo," for example:

Submit this post:

Funny animation about Leo, the occasionally good dog.

submit to reddit

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Girl, Boy, Who Cares?

A week or so ago, Bertram reappeared after an absence of five days. (You may remember my fretting that he'd been done in by a poisoned mouse.) Shortly after Bertram's return, Corvina disappeared for seven days. I didn't blog about it this time because I didn't want to gain a reputation as a neurotic alarmist.

After he'd been gone for several days, I speculated that Bertram might actually be a female and sitting on eggs. Corvina's disappearance let some air out of this idea, though, because it appears that Bertram and Corvina may be sharing this duty. Perhaps crows aren't as sexist in their child-rearing roles as the crowologists think.The upshot is that I've decided to stick with my original assumptions about who's a boy (Bertram) and who's a girl (Corvina), as it probably doesn't matter that much to them, and it spares me having to redo everyone's wardrobe.

Anyway, here's the latest in the crow family saga: Corvina and Bertram are now disappearing on alternate days: one day Bertram is here begging for peanuts, and the next day Corvina is. As many peanuts as I can put out, they consume. I can't imagine how they're eating all these peanuts without gaining so much weight that they can't fly.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Winslow Homer, The Color of Light, Behind the Scenes

In 2008 the Art Institute of Chicago had a special Winslow Homer exhibit, and they created a related online site that's still live, called "Winslow Homer, The Color of Light, Behind the Scenes." Here you can learn about some of his techniques and materials, which are pretty interesting to me, as a watercolor painter. I was amazed to see how much "messing around" he was able to get away with. He lifted, sanded, scraped, blotted, spattered, you name it. You can click through the site or, if you're impatient like me, you can go to this list of topics and click the ones you want to see. I was very interested in how messy his palette was.

Dear Bessie

Bessie had a thing or two to teach me...

Dear Bessie,
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, and I often wonder how you’re doing and whether you remember our time together as fondly as I do.
   We met because of Dennis Mickey, who used to do my tractor work. He was a retired Texas rancher who lived near my small farm on the Key Peninsula. The farm had been neglected for years, and I relied on Dennis a lot at first. Old fences needed pulling down and blackberries, brush-hogging. It was soon apparent, though, that there was enough work to justify having a tractor of my own. So with Dennis’s help, I began the hunt for a good used one, combing through the Little Nickel Farm Machinery section and calling dealers.
   One morning Dennis phoned me. His friend over at the Stokes Auction knew of a fellow selling a Ford 8N. Did I want to go have a look? As soon as I saw you, I knew you were the one. You wore a coat of medium gray semi-gloss paint, neatly spread over many under coats, unmarred by rust. Your compact form promised to have a short turning radius, just right for the small projects I had in mind. Behind your bonnet was a large black steering wheel, an old fashioned manual apparatus that would turn hard, I later discovered. On your back perched the shallow red bowl of a seat and behind it, the PTO. Your crowning feature, a bright orange front loader, completed your ensemble. 
 When I climbed up onto the seat and turned your key, you coughed and then settled into a steady, low rumble. Not quite the purr I had hoped for, but you sounded healthy enough. When engaged, your PTO whirred impressively, and I knew you would be good at handling power tools. And your front loader was irresistible. Although no particular use for it came to mind, I was certain that I would find one. Up and down, forward and back the bucket went as I pushed and pulled your levers.
   Your owner explained that your 28 horsepower engine hadn’t been rebuilt in your nearly 50 years, which gave me pause until Denis explained that old 8Ns like you were hard to find, not because you broke down and became junk, but because you were so easy to fix and rebuild that folks tended to hang onto you. With that reassurance, I drove you up onto Dennis’s trailer and carefully tied you down for the trip home. 
   First on my list of projects was to smooth and level the ground where some field-grown rhododendrons had been dug up. Using a single-bottom plow, we’d first break up the soil. Then, once churned up sufficiently, we’d go over back over the ground with the blade. The area was small – about ¼ an acre – roughly circular and surrounded by mature rhododendrons. To avoid running over them, I decided to plow in a spiral. Around and around we went, making large circles at the outer edge that became smaller and smaller as we worked our way to the center. You responded readily to the levers, and I enjoyed raising and lowering the plow, turning it this way and that, changing its angle to match the changing level of the terrain.
   To thoroughly break up the soil , we made three passes with the plow, all in the same direction. Thanks to your heavy front loader, turning your steering wheel was an energetic task, becoming harder and harder as we drew closer to the center of the field. By the second pass, I noticed a slight stitch in my side, and my left shoulder canted downward. But I was having so much fun that I didn’t think about changing direction, steering you to the right rather than the left to even out the strain on my back. By the time we’d finished the third pass, my spine was tilting to port, and I couldn’t straighten up. After barely managing to climb down from your seat, I hobbled to the house, each breath so painful that I took my time before the next one. I got into bed alright, but the following morning found me flat on my back on the floor. Liz called the chiropractor, who was fortunately a small-town type of doctor who made house calls. With his help, I was able to stand up and walk around again. 

   Then it was back to work! Your implements were awkward and heavy, weighing hundreds of pounds, and difficult to change. Dennis had helped me attach your plow, but he wasn’t around to help take it back off and attach your blade so we could level the ground that had been broken up by the plow. I wasn’t sure how to proceed at first, but after pondering for a while, came up with a plan. Using a massive wrench borrowed from Pete’s Home Texaco, I loosened and removed the bolts attaching the plow. Then I drove you slowly away, leaving the plow behind on the ground. Next I backed you up to the blade and hopped down to attach it, but the bolt holes on the blade wouldn’t line up with the ones on your 3 point hitch. I couldn’t get the bolts through them. I tried moving the blade to line them up, but it was too heavy for me to budge. Softly cursing under my breath, I pushed and pulled, but to no avail. Tears of frustration clouded my eyes, and I wanted to give up. But real farmers don’t give up when facing far more daunting tasks than this, I remembered, so taking a deep breath, I began thinking. And thinking and thinking and thinking. Finally I knew what to do.
   I rummaged around in the old lumber stored under the workshop and found a sturdy two-by-four board. Kicking the dirt away from underneath a section of the blade, I wedged the board under it. Lifting the opposite end of the board I set a large rock under it about two feet from the blade. Then I sat on the board about three feet from the blade.  This lifted the blade a few inches from the ground, and I was just able to reach over and stick a rock under the blade to prop it up. The holes were now aligned well enough to thread the bolt through them. Triumph! Mind over matter, woman over machine!
Not all problems were this easy to fix. Remember the time you got stuck in the mud? Brian and Liz, who were teenagers at that time, wanted to drive you around the property, so I taught them how to operate you, warning them to stay away from the muddy patch near the fire pond where you could get stuck. You got stuck in the mud anyway, but it was when I was at the wheel. Plowing the adjacent field, I cut too close to the muddy spot, and in you sank. There was nothing solid nearby, such as a building or a tree, to attach a comealong winch to, so digging you out was my only option. It took three long days. You could call this a triumph of “Woman over mud,” although I must admit that I was too tired to feel very triumphant.

   Finally the day came when we’d done all of the tractor work that was needed, and you were left sitting idle for days on end. Dennis could do the seasonal brush-hogging in just a few hours, and it didn’t make sense to keep you anymore. Dennis quickly found a new owner for you, and I let you go with a heavy heart. As you rode away on Dennis’ trailer, I told you that I would never forget you, or the lessons you taught me, such as “A woman using her brain can do unexpectedly brawny things” and “A woman not using her brain can end up with very sore muscles.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

How to Create an HDR Photo from a Single RAW or NEF File

Breaking news: I just got a coupon code that you can use to get a special discount on Photomatix.

Making an HDR photo from a single NEF file is useful when the scene you're shooting has stuff moving around in it. Basic requirements: To make an HDR photo from a single RAW or NEF file, you need the following: (1) A camera that shoots in either RAW or NEF, (2) photo editing software that works with these file formats, and (3) a software program that allows you to create HDR photos, such as Photomatix or Photoshop.

A while back, I went through an "HDR photography" phase. Probably most people do this when first introduced to the technology because you can get some very cool effects with it. In case you're unfamiliar, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It addresses the problem that normal photos only display a slice of the total range of light available in a scene -- a much smaller range than the human eye can see -- which results in lost details in shadows or "blown out" lights. For a bit more background and a couple of examples of this, see Painting from Photos. To increase the range of light in a photo, HDR photography combines the information from two or more photos of the same scene, taken at different exposure settings, say -1, 0 and +1 EV for example.

Because they're made from a sandwich of two or more exposures, HDR photos can come out blurry when your subject or part of the scene in the photo is moving. This is also an issue if you're trying to take multiple exposures with a hand-held camera because your hands can't hold the camera absolutely steady. Even on a tripod, the camera can be shaken by a passing breeze. In addition, the camera can shake itself slightly just with the movement of the shutter.

One way to get around this problem is to shoot a single photo in either RAW or NEF format and then make the different exposures needed for your HDR photo from this file. In case you're not familiar with them, NEF is a format used by Nikon, and RAW is used by most everyone else. Most SLR cameras have the ability to shoot in one of these two formats. RAW and NEF files store a great deal more information from the scene than do JPG files. As a result, these files are very large. Mine generally run from 12 to 20 MB.

After taking your photo in RAW or NEF format, you need to upload it into your photo editing software, which probably came with your camera. I use Capture NX 2.0 to work with my NEF files. You can also use a third-party program such as Photoshop. Make any edits that you want to the photo, and then save two or more versions of it at different exposure settings, for example -1, 0, and +1 EV; or -2, 0, and +2 EV. Then save the resulting files in JPG format. Finally, create your HDR file from these JPGs by using a specialized program such as Photomatix or the photo combining features of Photoshop.

Here are some examples of HDR photos I made in this manner from shots I took one day when we went sailing with our friend, Michael.

Everything looks ship-shape, Cap'n.
Off we go! Isn't that Seattle over there?
Michael's sight-seeing. Hey, who's at the helm, anyway?
No worries. Bill's got the tiller.
Wow, look at that big boat over there!

Ah, Bill, I think we've had a close enough look.
Who knew playing chicken with a container ship could be so exhilarating!
Time to head back.

Ride's over Bill! Bill! BILL!
Don't forget to check out this coupon code that you can use to get a special discount on Photomatix.

Submit this post:

Make HDR photos even when parts of the scene are moving.

submit to reddit