Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Stumpery

The island we live on is home to the largest stumpery in the United States. What, you ask, is a stumpery? It is a type of garden first popularized in the Victorian era in England, when a romanticized interpretation of nature was in vogue. Simply put, a stumpery is constructed of tree stumps, uprooted to expose the roots, piled aesthetically, and planted with woodland plants, especially ferns, which the Victorians adored.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we emerge from winter with a fair number of trees blown down, especially shallow-rooted Douglas firs, and soft-wood trees like Alders. Clearing for construction results in still more stumps. The makers of our local stumpery thought it would be a good way to recycle this material, rather than seeing them chipped or burned.

The gardeners have created a 9,000 square foot garden, filled with fantastical piles of gnarled roots, interplanted with magnificent Tasmanian tree ferns, thousands of ferns, hostas, trilliums, terrestrial orchids, and over 100 different epimediums. It's truly an otherworldly place, and will only grow more so over the years as things develop a coat of moss and lichen.

To see an article about this stumpery, including a photograph (it's the second of two photos), follow this link. To read about stumperies, including the one at Highgrove in England, check out this Wikipedia entry.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Touring Gardens

Lilium First Choide
This beauty is Lilium 'First Choice.' Ain't she grand?

Today, instead of working in our own garden (not that it doesn't need it), we decided to go on the island garden tour, an annual fundraiser for various arts programs. This year, the tour included six gardens ranging from an extravagantly planted garden surrounding a French provincial style house, complete with a stunning view of the largest harbor on the island, to a "stumpery," a more woodland garden that contains over one hundred large tree stumps salvaged from various sites and then underplanted with thousands of woodland plants. We visited three gardens today, and will see the other three tomorrow (including the stumpery, which we're intrigued by).

The gardens we visited today all had extensive hard-scaping in place, which certainly helps define a garden. If we actually owned the house we lived in, we'd be doing that, too. The first garden we visited was the densely planted one, where everyone seemed simply dazed by the sheer amount of plants present. It was quite impressive, especially in that most of the plants were not that unusual, and some were downright old-fashioned (Maltese cross, peonies, lilies, roses). Despite the sheer volume of plants, the garden is broken up into neatly defined zones that made it seem more intimate. My favorite plant was a primrose with a tall, fox-tail of a flower spike in pink, with a tuft of red a the top. Stunning.

The third garden we visited is located on a pretty steep site, which has been terraced, with lots of clever little paths stepping down here and there. Full of old-fashioned roses that smelled great, and little enclosed "rooms" with raised beds for growing vegetables, the most enchanting detail were the many places where small beach rocks had been set on their sides to form patterns. Lovely.

Tomorrow, the stumpery.

Meanwhile, here's a couple more shots from our garden. The first is Asarina scandens, sometimes called Trailing Gloxinia or Trailing Snapdragon. The last photo is Clematis 'Niobe,' one of the most beautiful large-flowered clematis, at least to our eye. This year we're getting quite a prolific number of blooms. This clematis continues blooming for us over a long period, making it a definite winner in our book.


Clematis Niobe

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Perfect Summer Day

Yep, we had one today.

We got out of the house at around 10:30 am and headed into town (or, at least, what passes for a town on the island) and found a great parking spot right in front of the Village Green, which on Saturdays is home to our local farmers' market. We ran into our landlady and chatted a bit, looked at the fresh salad greens, prepared foods, and crafts, all the while listening to some great bluegrass music being played by a duo on the lawn.

We bought some great bacon, made from Berkshire hogs that are grown on the Kitsap peninsula. Hey, they had free samples! Looking forward to breakfast tomorrow, for sure.

Looked at some really beautiful turned wood bowls and boxes. Gorgeous.

Bought a few organic yellow delicious and gala apples from east of the Cascades, then headed over to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, then on to the produce stand at the main intersection for organic cherries, asparagus, strawberries, and young Walla Walla sweet onions. Ducked inside the restaurant at the same intersection and had some lunch, then took off for a couple of nurseries, where we bought some fantastic plants for an area under a large alder, including a loropetalum, several kinds of ferns, and a new hybrid alstromeria that has intense violet flowers flecked with white.

Traveling further south on the main drag, we went to the historic building that housed the original roasting plant for Seattle's Best Coffee, now home to a healthy grocery store and cafe. They have the only espresso machine on the island that still has the pump handles, and the espresso there is really good. Today we weren't in search of caffeine, though (strange, that), but were signing up for a series of classes on treating various inflammatory ailments through diet. These classes are all the rage on the island this summer, and we know many folks who told us they were worthwhile, so starting in July we'll be making some changes to the way we eat.

We cut west across the island, then up the west-side highway, one of the more scenic and picturesque routes on the island, all the way back to where it rejoins the main road, driving through its many curves and marveling at the lush ferns and other plant life along the way.

Once home, we planted everything we bought today (which almost never happens) and watered it in well. Sat for awhile in our little seating area, admiring the garden, drinking some water, listening to the birds. While working in the garden today, we saw the first zebra swallowtail of the season, so graphic against the dark violet Papaver sommniferum blooms. Lots and lots of bee activity, as well as hummingbird battles over the best blossoms.

We are seeing many more Anna's hummingbirds this year and boy, are they cute. Some are brilliantly colored. We see them feeding, but also perching on several of the trellises we have installed. We've only seen a couple of the larger rufous hummingbirds, though. The Anna's seem to especially love the red and yellow Aquilegia canadensis and the Billardiera longiflora, which has little one-inch tubular bell-shaped flowers, as well as the native Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata).

While the new plants were being irrigated, I made dinner: barbecued baby-back ribs on the grill, those young Walla Walla onions, split and grilled, and a green salad. We had some ginger syrup and Grenadine over ice with club soda, and it was pretty much perfect.

Much like the day itself.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Gardening: Rhododendron suaveolens

The first bloom truss of the Rhododendron suaveolens has fully opened. These pure white, diminutive flowers pack a powerfully fragrant punch: sweet, floral, woodsy and tropical. Well worth the wait.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gardening: Back Porch Beauties


This exotic beauty is Sprekelia formosissima, native to Mexico and a member of the Amaryllidaceae family. We planted a pot of ten of them on the back porch, where we can enjoy the blooms from our dining room.

This flower is about 7 inches tall and wide, borne on a short stem. It emerged from the bulb before any leaves; the remaining nine are sending up leaves but no flowers yet. We hope we get more than one bloom, but if that's it, then I will definitely be lifting these in the fall and overwintering them in the garage for next year. Those of you in USDA zones 8-10 might have luck leaving them in the ground, provided you mulch them well and they have excellent drainage. We are considered zone 8 here, but we do suffer some winter damage to plants that are marginal, so I think storage is the way to go.

Right next to the pot of Sprekelias we have a small pot with one of the tropical rhododendrons, Rhododendron suaveolens, a heavily perfumed member of the Vireya subgenus of rhododendrons. Vireyas, which number around 300, are generally found in tropical climates. This is the fourth year we've had ours, putting it outside each summer, and letting it overwinter in the house. This will be the first year it's bloomed.

The flower truss, once released from its cap, will spread out in a starburst of pure white, fragrant flowers. More pictures to come!