Friday, March 1, 2013

Secret of Ladybugs

I learned a few tips last week at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show about controlling garden pests with Nature’s own predator bugs.

Ladybugs, and their even hungrier larvae, feast on aphids. But if you’ve ever purchased ladybugs, you’ve likely watched with dismay as they’ve flown away to your neighbor’s home. 
Ladybug larva, photo: Newton, MA public schools

The secret one Garden Show speaker shared to keep ladybugs, aka ladybeetles, on your plants:
Spray a sugar water solution on the problem plants just before releasing.

But what ratio of water to sugar? I did a little google research and found some other key factors, plus an interesting website chock full of good information that does not besiege with advertising ( ):

·  Ladybugs navigate by the sun, so release them after sundown in the evening.
·  They need water; sprinkle leaves first.
·  Chill overnight in the fridge (it won’t hurt them). They are more likely to crawl than fly when cold.

And if you use sugar water, which does seem to attract them, mix 10 parts water to 1 part sugar, roughly. (from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New gifts every day!

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show opens today and runs through Sunday, February 24. I always go, and I’m always overwhelmed by it – so many informative talks, so many beautiful garden designs, so many vendors and educational booths, so many people to talk with. It is sensory overload, but I love it!

And what a good time to celebrate gardens! Life is already emerging from the earth. Yesterday I saw the first clump of my own purple crocuses blooming, sheltered in the reflected warmth of a dark green, glazed pot.

Clearing away last year’s dead stems in the front garden, I saw clusters of green bumps – the new shoots of Euphorbia polychroma just barely surfacing. Late last summer, I was smitten by this euphorbia’s large, bright yellow flowers when I saw it in a neighbor’s garden paired with burgundy-leaved barberry. (Technically, the big yellow parts are called cyathia; like its cousin the poinsettia, the flowers are tiny bits in the center.) Soon after, I found two – one half-price and one given to me. Desire is a magnet! I’m excited to see how large they grow this year.

Ribes sanguineum - Flowering red currant     

 Last weekend I saw a flowering red currant (Ribes sangguineum). Pink flower buds shaped like tiny grape clusters and new leaves decorate its twiggy branches. One neighbor’s front yard quivers with masses of snow drops and early yellow crocuses. Walking in the neighborhood feels like finding new gifts to open every day!

crocuses and snowdrops

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

No place like home


It's funny how often it happens that we have to get away to discover what was in our own back (or front) yard all along.

The other day I was walking along 6th Avenue in downtown Seattle when a delectable scent tickled my nose. Like a cartoon character lured by the aroma of warm pie, I nosed it out. There it was - narrow, shiny dark, evergreen leaves, hung with tiny clusters of frilly white flowers - Sarcococca or Sweet Box, beckoning from a huge concrete planter. 
Sarcococca confusa
 When I got home, I detected the scent, for the first time this season, of the one growing right beside my doorstep. I love Sarcococca for its scrumptious fragrance, and also because it reminds me that the sequence of blooming plants is like a tide that carries us out of winter. Nature's beauty and constancy connect me with a deeper, enduring reality that always soothes and refreshes my spirit!

Waning gibbous

New Year’s Day, 2013

Last night my nose registered the cold crispness of the air.

This morning, I opened my blinds to a clear blue sky, a waning gibbous moon still high and bright in the west, and a pink chiffon scarf hiding the mountains on the horizon. A second morning of take-my-breath-away surprise.  Yesterday, salmon cotton puffs scattered the eastern sky in the early morning when I opened the living room blinds.

I realized that part of the pleasure of beauty comes from the surprise, the unexpected, unanticipated. I’m reminded of travelers who discard the well-planned itinerary and find a delight no guide book described.

But today far surpasses yesterday’s delight. Today is New Year’s Day. The new year begins with a clear blue sky – an auspicious beginning, especially because blue sky is so rare on a Seattle winter morning! Frost whitens all the rooftops and crisps the grass and lingering leaves of perennials in the garden. This moment is perfect; how can I keep from writing!
Heuchera, frosted

Right now, my house still shades my own yard, but the madrona a block away shimmers in the light. How I love this scene of trees from my bedroom window, mostly evergreen tickled with some bare deciduous branches, rolling all the way to the Olympic Mountains on the horizon, here and there rooftops of houses peaking through openings in the tree cover. Not a single high-rise or industrial building in sight. I have been so blessed these 25, going on 26 years.

9:00 – The sun just rose high enough to shine through the blinds on the south window, right into my eyes. Rise and shine, indeed!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Where water is opulence

In Southern California, water is opulence.

Overlooking Santa Barbara, on a winding lane of walled estates, a Shangri-la garden exists called Lotusland, planted with the drama and intensity of the opera diva who owned and created it. Lotusland boasts at least four large water features: a small lake in its Japanese garden; an enchantingly pale, pale blue, shallow “wading pool”; an immaculately clean and enticing swimming pool, kept full but unused since the owner’s death in 1984; and The Water Garden.

The Wading Pool is painted an ethereal tint, the blue accentuated by a narrow white-painted border. Roughly kidney shaped and not quite Olympic in length, a “beach” of large abalone shells rim the entire pool.  Perched on the edge, a three-tiered fountain, about 6 feet tall, formed of two-foot-wide giant clam shells and coral, each shell worth a small fortune, spills musically into the pool. I want desperately to lie down in this pool and listen to “Bali Ha’i”.

A photograph of the main Water Garden now graces my laptop’s desktop. The sunny scene transports me on gloomy Seattle days. The old cabana sits in the background, a small building, though large for a cabana. My eye goes repeatedly to it. Tall trees frame it and the sun falls full and bright on it, picking out the light pink stucco and brick-red Spanish tile from the surrounding greenery. Basic in its plain rectangular footprint, a colonial Spanish mission-style double-arch entry lifts it out of simplicity. The two arches, with three supporting columns, lead to an antechamber, suggesting a cloister. In the inner wall of the antechamber are two doors - the former changing rooms.

A cluster of papyrus grows just outside the cabana, beside the entry. Very tall, some of the stems stand upright, their feathery mops dusting the lower edge of the roof eave. Other stems lean to the left, fanning across the arch, their flower heads burst chartreuse against the pink stucco and dark cloister.

 The sun, the pale pink stucco, and darkness beyond the arches seductively draw me into this California dream.

The property’s original swimming pool spans the mid-ground of the photo. Now an opaque, pale green rectangle of duckweed, it forms the central axis of the current Water Garden, reflecting the rectangular shape of the cabana, but not its image.  A few pale yellow strips of sun lay like rags on its duckweed surface. On both sides of this pale geometry, irregularly shaped, more naturalistic ponds host lotus, waterlilies, papyrus, and reflections - of sky, surrounding trees and bordering vegetation. A wavy image of the pink cabana floats on the foreground pond.

*    *    *
A place of enchantment and heady excess, Lotusland’s “garden rooms” are more Belle Epoque ballrooms.

Lemon trees trained over an arbor form a very long arcade, a dapple-shaded passage across a vast lawn. Their slim trunks alternate with wooden beams of the same weathered gray hue to form airy vertical supports. Overhead, hundreds of lemons in various stages of ripening hang thick beneath sturdy evergreen leaves. Such a wealth of fruit thrills me. Walking slowly under this arbor, I feel both sheltered and nourished by this Eden-like vision. I imagine that Eve must have felt something like this wonder and delight.

November, 2012


Not raining this morning. Blue peeks through small rents in the cloud cover. A morning-angled spotlight picks out the threadbare gold tatters still clinging on the big horse chestnut that hulks over my view of the horizon, its massive skeleton now exposed. All around is shadow. A brief vignette, it reminds me of a museum spotlight on gold artifacts found still adorning a ancient king’s buried bones. The clouds drift, closing the portal, snapping off the spotlight.

Out for a walk yesterday, I grieved over the demise of color. Japanese maples that a week ago displayed their dearest dowry of ruby, amber and gold, now stand half disrobed, their filigreed finery fallen about their feet. 

 But just a few blocks away, I found cause to rejoice. Espaliered on a grayed cedar fence, a deep pink Sasanqua Camellia, a winter bloomer, thick with buds, presented its first open flowers of the season! The Camellia’s sturdy evergreen leaves cloak the fence all year. The Camellia reminds me of the sequence of blooming shrubs that will keep me afloat through the dark Seattle winter – camellia, Viburnum bodnantense, witch hazel, sarcococca, and on – like a string of lantern fires guiding a night traveler.

As if it were a Titan with massive indigestion, the atmosphere over our region roils, boils, and belches lately. Around 6pm, a sudden, intense roar of wind, like a military jet flying low, shook the kitchen window, made me jump and the cat dart under the sofa. A moment later, barbarian hordes of rain and hail pounded my roof, walls, windows.


"Do not go gentle..."

Catching Up

Yesterday dawned with just a few long, feathery strokes of clouds brushing the Olympic Mountains and the full moon very bright, still high in the west. By mid-afternoon, I reveled in the sun’s warmth.

At sunset, clouds radiated up and out from behind the Olympics, as though from a single hidden point, like an open Chinese fan, with wisps of visible air currents trailing away from the fan’s edges. I watched the clouds’ colors ripen from palest apricot to vibrant salmon to sweet, regretful rose. Distracted from my vigil momentarily, when I looked again, the sudden blackness physically jarred me.


This past week, the burning bushes (Euonymus alata) burst into their eponymous blaze. Soon senescence will overtake the dogwoods, cherries, willows, maples as they “do not go gentle into that good night” of dormancy.

Scientifically I know why leaves change color in autumn. But metaphysically, metaphorically, how fascinating that they blaze with such intense life just before relinquishing their hold on this plane of existence to return to the earth. This last wild bohemian fling stirs a deep urge in me to fling my calendar in the trash and do something wildly out of character.
Yesterday afternoon, as the sun finally began to burn through a day of gloom, a few Japanese maples startled the breath out of me with their overnight transformation to scarlet, gold and amber. But such a mournful beauty.

When I hear people say that autumn is their favorite season, it strikes me like saying, “I love going to funerals because the flowers are so beautiful.”