Sunday, January 29, 2012

Almost showtime!

Just a few days remain until the biggest event in Pacific Northwest gardening takes place at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center here in Seattle.

I'm getting sick and tired of this show NOT GETTING ENOUGH ATTENTION no matter how hard the staff work to promote it! I speak from a perspective of someone who's been both a spectator and an exhibitor behind the scenes and as an active member of the gardening community here, I really wish this show could be like the OSCARS of Northwest Horticulture. The glitz, the glamor, the paparazzi, the celebrities and everyone in Seattle knowing that this show is taking place and they have to see it and experience it no matter what! Yes, there are complaints about crowds (come during the morning or later in the evening), parking (get dropped off and picked up or take the bus), but there's so much to see and experience.

A display garden at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

HRH Queen Elizabeth II at Chelsea
Queen Elizabeth II greeting garden designers

 Perhaps I'm venting a bit as I finally had the opportunity to visit the Chelsea Flower Show last spring (see blog post here) and my article comparing it to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show that just came out in Pacific Horticulture Magazine. There are many similarities and each show definitely has its own strengths and weaknesses, but it's the press and publicity about Chelsea that just blows me away. Big names like Ringo Starr, Helen Miren, Gweneth Paltrow, and Vanessa Redgrave made appearances and, each year, the friggin' QUEEN OF ENGLAND comes to take in the displays, the scents and all the wonderful pleasures of seeing the show before it's open to the public.

Celebrity with Rose 1
Vanessa Redgrave
I'm sure there's a lot of issues why our show can't garner the big names: security, liability, "over the top" demands and I guess our famous people just aren't all that interested in plants, but one never knows! Part of me feels like they're just not being invited nor encouraged to attend the preview gala. Yes, celebrities have tight schedules and are exceedingly picky about how they're portrayed and where they can and can't be seen, but it's PLANTS AND FLOWERS, of course you're gonna look damn good amongst beautiful things. Also, having celebrities come in an instant draw for people. Some could care less about plants, but if they knew that Bill Gates or Kenny G would make an appearance or performance, heck, why not go with a chance to see a "big name"!

In all honesty, part of this rant is stemming from a personal struggling I've been dealing with for quite some time. I often feel like I'm emersed in an industry that stuck in the dark ages and trying to venture out is frowned upon. While I feel very strongly about maintaining traditions and the common ways we nurture our plants and gardens, making it accessible and readily available to anyone has been the ongoing challenge.

What it has turned into are "trend-setting attempts at marketing crap" that are suppose to make gardening "easier" for people. Yes, it's a luxury to garden, to have a garden, but it takes work no matter what! Those getting into gardening need to be educated, inspired and motivated to  put in the work to grow plants or else they shouldn't be reluctant to hire proper help if they want a garden, plants and flowers in their life. Essentially what I'm trying to say is: gardeners and those working in the horticultural industry don't get enough credit where it's truly due!

I like to think that the Northwest Flower and Garden Show is a place where we in the gardening community can truly take centerstage and shine. It's our chance to show off our ingenuity, our skills and deep knowledge and set us up for new jobs, new ideas, and new opportunities in the coming gardening season. All of us need to continue to believe that our industry has a bright future ahead and we need to stop whining about the economy and scrambling to find where all the trends are going. Yes, we're all broke and losing money, so then keep your objectives simple. It's really a matter of re-instilling the value of nurturing the earth and the satisfaction one feels for growing a plant in a landscape. There are different paths and directions towards those values, but that's what makes our field so exciting and unique; not everyone is going to be doing the same thing the same way. Instill in them the sciences of how plants grow and develop and let the art-form evolve by responsibly bringing it all together in a garden.

Some people will be in awe and many will say, "it's just like every other year...bleh". IT DOESN'T MATTER, IT'S THERE AND DESERVES TO BE THERE!

I just wish everyone knew how much work goes into putting in a display garden at the Flower and Garden Show. It takes a incredible leader with a bold and clear vision and a team to plan, design, grow, transport, arrange, install, maintain, and finally dismantle. All in an effort to say, "We love what we do and we'd like to share it with everyone in the hopes that you'll support us and our community."

I'm slowly visualizing my presentation in my head and I'm praying that it's well attended. It think it's going to be pretty awesome. Yes, my topic is very....plain and traditional, but this is a 29 year old talking about it! There's bound to be something obviously different about it and, perhaps, exciting.  =)

So there is a preview party that's put on by the Arboretum Foundation. I can't promise any celebrities such as Bill Gates, Dave Matthews, Amanda Knox,  or any of these other celebrity Seattleites! but you should check it out.



Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Year of the Dragon

The Lunar New Year is here and the festivities for Chinese New Year are in full swing. While I'm not Chinese nor does my family celebrate Chinese New Year, I can't help but acknowledge it each year as I have many friends that do celebrate it and the happy occasions and traditions seem to have rubbed off on me knowing how significant a holiday it is to those around me.


There are aspects of Chinese culture I thoroughly enjoy, the art, the food, and, of course, THE PLANTS! I studied Chinese Brush Painting years ago, I cook Chinese influenced dishes almost every single week and my collection of plants are dominated by species from "the Mother of Gardens".

Plants and flowers play an important role in the festivities for Chinese New Year and there are iconic plants you'll often see at stores such as:

Miniature orange trees or kumquats:

Obviously, mandarin oranges do not grow naturally like this, but you'll see these all over China as they symbolize great fortune. The round fruit also symbolize unity and perfection.

Chinese Sacred Lilies:

So the Chinese started the whole forcing of paperwhites, but they do them more elaborately often carving the bulbs into unique shapes and their flowering is always timed so they're in full, gloriously fragrant bloom come Chinese New Year! Known as Shui Xian Hua (water goddess flower) and botanically known as Narcissus tazetta v. chinensis

Lucky Bamboo:
Everyone is familiar with Lucky Bamboo (not really a bamboo, but botanically known as Dracaena sanderiana) and you'll see more of them during the Chinese New Year decorated and often contorted in many different shapes and forms. They are easily grown in water and make a low maintenance house plant and as the same suggests, symbolize luck and goof fortune.

The year of the dragon reminds me so many plants that I grow that have "DRAGON" in their name.

The first plant that comes to mind is Poncirus (now classified as Citrus) trifoliata 'Flying Dragon'. It is a hardy plant for us in the Pacific Northwest and it is highly unusual with its contorted branches, dark stems and occasional fruit. I've used it in container plantings, but I've yet to get mine in the ground as it looks smashing in a pot and I'm not quite sure where it'll go in the garden.

Persicaria Red Dragon Then there's the rampant Persicaria 'Red Dragon' with it's deep red and silver cast to the foliage.

Polygonatum odoratum 'Jeweled Dragon'An impulse purchase at a local nursery was this rare Polygonatum that I thought I had lost, but I think I managed to save a piece of the rhizome. This is a variety called 'Jeweled Dragon'


Next is a conifer that's readily available in the trade and one I really should be growing, but again, not sure where it's going to go, but this 'Black Dragon' Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) is a handsome plant that doesn't get too large. Getting to about 7-8ft. tall and wide in 15-20 years, which is pretty compact so it lends itself to container work and a small urban garden. So, it's slow growing and quite low maintenance.

恭禧發財!! Gong Xi Fa Cai (mandarin) Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese)

Happy Chinese New Year!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snow Day in Seattle

The snow kept me indoors for two days as I avoided the icy roads and crazy Seattle drivers!!!

I did step out and admire a container I composed last year that's looking pretty awesome as the snow blankets the landscape.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Love, Eat, Garden!

The first weekend of the new year was quite a treat as I spent it with close friends and family.

One of the highlights of last summer was watching my high school friend, Carol, get married and this weekend was the first time I had seen her since their wedding.

She invited me to their new home as she prepared for a hot pot dinner, which I couldn't attend because I had dinner plans with family (potential blog post, but there wasn't much plant/veggies involved and I was too lazy to take pictures). With her younger sister, we helped prepare for the evening meal and as a token of her appreciation, she prepared a light breakfast and lunch that was so simple, yet so comfy and delicious.

Carol utilized a green that I've just started to become fond of last year when I had so much of it when I was in England. There, it's known as rocket, but in the US, we call it arugula. As a uber plant geek, it's Eruca sativa.A native of the Mediterranean regions where it kind of grows as a weedy annual, the peppery foliage is often used in salads and lightly cooked as a vegetable.

Here, Carol lightly sautes the arugula with a bit of bacon jam she was given as a gift and in the same pan, she lightly toasts a half of an English muffin that's topped with the greens and finished off with a seasoned fried egg, sunny-side up!

In the garden, it's an easy plant to raise as even young seedlings can be sheared and used as needed and it flushes out new foliage each time it's cut. You can also plant the seeds in succession so you have a regular harvest throughout the spring and summer. Provide a full sun location and water regularly. It is a type of plant that can be very quick to bolt (produce flowers instead of the desired leaves) so they like it fairly cool, but the flowers can also be eaten and the seeds saved for future sowings.

After a second helping of this simple, but scrumptious dish, we helped Carol prepare for her hot pot dinner. Slicing assorted vegetables, fungi, and other ingredients, Carol arrange a forest of greens and enoki mushrooms for an easy and effective presentation.

Greens consisted of sliced banana petioles (Musa sp.), napa cabbage (Brassica rapa ssp. pekinensis), baby bok choi (Brassica rapa ssp. chinensis), choi sum (Brassica rapa var. parachinensis) (chrysanthemum greens (Chrysanthemum coronarium), and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), which she used for our lunch!

Lunch time rolled around and her husband came home to join us for another meal! This time it was a bowl of noodles in a broth of left over turkey drippings splashed with fish sauce, a few fish balls, sliced giant oyster mushrooms and a bundle of garlic chives left over from the hot pot veggie arrangements.

We reminisced about high school, the summer, the holidays, and the upcoming year and Carol suddenly remembered that she had orchids that were given as wedding/house-warming gifts and wanted to inquire about their care. On top of inviting her to attend my talk at Molbak's (that I just posted), we discussed their care and she seemed genuinely interested in caring for them even though I've admitted that orchids these days have become as disposable as Poinsettias after Christmas.

Next generation gardener? You betcha! As her friend, you bet I'm going to encourage her to pick my brain and introduce her and her husband to some garden basics as they settle in and feel more compelled to enhance their living spaces.

First, I need to convince them to talk to their landlord about taking out a hideous "boxed" Photinia up against their window. hehe

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hear my talk on ORCHIDS!!! February 4th at Molbak's!

After years of visiting, purchasing from, and admiring the institution that is Molbak's Garden and Home in Woodinville, WA, the lovely Karen Chapman helped get my name through the door for me to finally stand on their stage and present a talk!

Phal collage
It's going to be about ORCHIDS!

The last talk I ever gave on orchids was a scientific talk in flasking techniques and micropropagation of assorted genera in the Orchidaceae when I was an undegrad, but this time, we have to simplify it a bit and introduce folks to a most fascinating group of plants that simply mesmerize and draw us to them.

Once rare and only the wealthiest and most powerful could ever dream of owning and growing one, the orchid has come a long way from Greek testicles, Chinese aphrodisiacs to symbiotic sexual acts with insects and prom flowers at Trader Joe's.

My talk will cover the alluring and interesting history of why such a family of flowering plants have captivated us over the years and how we can take this fond curiosity about them and nurture them to grow and bloom in our homes.

The talk will be at 12PM at Molbak's on February 4th. A Saturday.

I do hope you'll come and be inspired to own and grow an orchid.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Plants I Want 2012: Plant Delights Nursery

January can be a very exciting month as many well-known mail-order nurseries put out their new catalogs and entice plant geeks such as myself with their new introductions and plants I want to use in work projects and plants I'd like to add to my personal collection.

I'm anxious to start with one of the most popular mail order catalogs and that's of Plant Delight's Nursery in Raleigh, NC. I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Avent years ago as an undergrad when he was a auctioneer for a reception at the International Plant Propagator's Society conference. He was entertaining and hilarious, but he's also a remarkable plantsman and owns one of the most successful plant mail order operations out there. He's so well connected with other growers in that he has access to the best of the best and many of their offerings are simply to die for if you know your plants! He also has a great cartoonist friend who does their comic catalog covers:

So after they posted on their Facebook page that their 2012 Spring catalog was online, I jumped to my bookmark and had a peak at their selections. Here's what I'm lusting for and WHY.....

Arisaema consanguineum 'Wild Blue Yonder'. This is a selection of an Asian Jack-in-the-Pulpit with enormous foliage that is dramatically splashed in silver/blue. The texture it creates in the garden is exceptional. Plus, it's also an introduction by Ellen Hornig who used to run Seneca Hills Perennials, but is now closed. I had a chance to meet Ellen a few years back and she was a very sweet lady I hope to cross paths with again. $35.00 for a small tuber of this plant will be a tough one to swallow, however. It's kind of a plant I can probably survive without, for now. So on a scale of 1-5.....

1 (can probably live without)------- 5(already on my shopping cart.

 ** 2 **

Baptisia hybrids from Hans Hansen at Walter's Gardens. 

So, I met Hans two summers ago at the Perennial Plant Association conference and talk about a devoted plantsman. Now, I love Baptisia and recommend them highly because of their drought tolerance  and ease of care once they're established, but a lot of beginning gardeners sometimes get impatient with them. But now with these lovely new colors, I think I'll have an easier time convincing clients to try these out!

From left to right: 'Blue Sundae', 'Lemon Meringue', 'Dutch Chocolate'

**1** -will try to get locallly for clients

Epimedium sp. 'The Giant'. I'm certainly one of many Epimedium fanatics out there and this holy-grail of the horny goat weeds is an absolute must have because of its sheer size, rarity and exclusiveness, and its breeding potential to develop the most prolific flowering plants that will ever be developed! This was first offered through Darrell Probst from Garden Visions for like $500 or $300 dollars and now I can actually own one for $150. YIKES!!!  But can Riz live with or without it???


Musa xishuangbannaensis 'Mekong Giant'. I'm definitely a sucker for hardy tropicals even though they were considered a trend way back and now because they take so much water and fertilizer to look their grandest, I still have a soft spot for them because of their bold dramatic look in the landscape and in a way it sort of reminds me of my homeland. This new selection is suppose to have heavily speckled purple stems and huge foliage much larger and more dramatic than the standard hardy Musa basjoo. Xishuangbanna is a prefecture in Yunnan Province, China and boasts a remarkable amount of biodiversity. It is a tropical region that is home to some of the last of the Asian Elephants in the wild and many new species of plants and animals are being discovered and described all the time. This will certainly be for my collection and will definitely be a conversation piece if it does what Tony says it will do.


Delosperma 'Fire Spinner' looks to be an exquisite addition to the dry open garden rockery or green roof!! Look at that color! The hardy ice plant is one tough addition to the landscape just as long as it has exceptional drainage. I'm super excited about this new introduction as many colleagues are already drooling over the photos that have come out for press releases.

**4** --might look for it locally later this season.

You know, that's about it for the new introductions from Plant Delights. There are other plants I've lusted over that I might finally get from them to complete an order.