Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 Northwest Flower and Garden Show: Part 3: Through the Eyes of a Non-Gardener

11 Hyejin photographs here comes the sun
My friend, Hyejin Yun, joined me again at this year's press tour for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. A far cry from her typical desk job working for Microsoft, but as an avid photographer, she's applying all the skills she's learned by taking photographs of landscapes, people, random artifacts, and comes to the show to treat her eyes with something far more compelling than codes and email complaints.

7 Hyejin photographs Orchid

It's always fun to share my world with someone who's not too familiar with it, yet has utmost respect for it. I fill her in on the technical aspects of the show, but I also have to turn off the "plant snob professional" mode  so I can let her explore and discover the beauty that is the Northwest Flower and Garden Show on her own and develop her own connection with plants and flowers. The subjects she chooses to photograph are intriguing to me because it lets me look into her eyes and what she sees.

Check out her webpage and fabulous work HERE

It's the last day of the show and I'm headed down to soak up the show and stir things up a bit. ;-)


Friday, February 10, 2012

2012 Northwest Flower and Garden Show: Part 2: On the brighter side

The last post may seem kind of negative, but as a professional in the field, I need to have a keen eye; an educated perception of what occurs based on previous experiences, patterns, trends, and what we have to offer our audience.

This audience, however, is a very narrow demographic. As much as we want to shoot for the stars and have EVERYONE be as motivated and inspired by gardens and plants and flowers, it's just not gonna happen. The same way not everyone will be as engaged watching the Superbowl, the NBA Playoffs, or Glee. It may not happen, but why give up trying and in the process, encourage the regular show-goers to look and also think outside of the box and explore new ideas, new ways to approach gardening and also continue on time-honored techniques and methodologies that work. THERE'S ROOM FOR IT ALL!!

The most important aspect of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show is the simple fact that it's "the people's show", according to show owner Terry O'Loughlin.  When I came in ever so briefly last night to check out the show, there's no denying the inner excitement I have to see people there, to know that I'm a part of what they're experiencing and enjoying.

You've got to watch this video composed by the wonderful Theresa Loe from the awesome PBS series, "Growing a Greener World". It was so cool to have been interviewed and be included in this video!!

Here are some more images from the show I took during the press tour.

5 Rice Above
"Rice Above" an interpretation of the Philippine Rice Terraces in Banaue fused with tradition Asian concepts.

Itoh peonies in "Paris".

Great patio design complete with stereo and monitor that just pops out of the deck.

A tribute to cool curly branches!

What look like containers are actually drums with water spatting on top creating a unique rhythm.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

2012 Northwest Flower and Garden Show. Part 1: A critical eye

2 Marty shows insect hotelI've been trying to figure out all day how I could present this: I collected some notes and photographs during the press tour for the 2012 Northwest Flower and Garden Show and part of me feels the obligation to highlight all the wonderful things about it, but then another part of me goes into work mode and wants to just be overly critical. After years of attending and being a part of this show (and yes, having also visited the famous Chelsea Flower Show last May in England), I know a lot of the challenges both attendees and exhibitors face when it comes to putting together award winning gardens and displays that people will admire. After talking to friends and colleagues, both amateur gardeners and professionals in the field, I summed up some of their thoughts and my own as I walked the show floor. I won't name names, but they were observations that struck a chord somehow and this is just beginning to scratch the surface.

*IT'S A LOT OF HARD WORK that takes a team of dedicated and organized people to put exhibits like this together. Always remind yourself of that no matter how hideous and poorly built some of the gardens are, they took months of planning and just a short amount of time to put all together. 

*DO away with the theatrical lighting for the show gardens. Light those that want/need to be lighted, but let people see what they're going during move-in and let the plants and ornaments stand out so they can be fully admired and photographed.

*ENOUGH white birches. Love them white stems and peeling bark, but THERE ARE OTHER TREES you can use!!!

*IT'S THE SAME PLANTS EACH YEAR. You'd think that growers know what's been done before, but they seem too reliant on the same plants each time and it's totally understandable. It's winter and the palette can be very limited, but even a friend who's a non-gardener attended last year felt that everything was very "romanticized".

6 Birdsong

Orchid tuxedo

*EVERYONE'S INTERPRETATION OF THE "FLORAL SYMPHONY" KINDA SUCKED with the exception of the orchid folks with their cleverly interpreted music stand signs and tuxedo pots. Others just tried to pull off a music theme and it all seemed pretty half-ass.

*MAKE IT LOOK LIKE A MATURE LANDSCAPE! Yes, you put it together in just a few days or even under 24 hours. This is a show to inspire gardeners what they can do with their landscapes and, yes, you want to demonstrate how to plant and do things, but THIS IS A SHOW! Make it look like it's been growing that way FOR-EV-ER!!.

*EXHIBITORS TRYING TOO HARD TO BE SUSTAINABLE. They're trying to get a message across and demonstrate how to be more "green", so they display the concept and embellish it with plants and garden art to make it look good to the point where it looks gaudy and unrealistic.


*IF YOU'RE GONNA INCLUDE EDIBLES, MAKE US WANT TO EAT IT! Not something we should tear out because it's not doing anything. Yes, it's a tough time of year to even have veggies looking good, but down to the Pike Place Market and throw some great produce on your display garden or something!

I could go on and on; and I probably will later on, but this gets us started. For the seasoned professional, they can be pretty critical, but for the casual show attendee, it's simple something spectacular! Both, however, will acknowledge the time and effort it takes to create these displays and marvel at the fact that such a show like this exists for all of us who enjoy gardens, plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables and also bear in mind: THE SHOW ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE GARDENS and that's probably the reason why I love this show.

More soon...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tazettas for the Chinese New Year!

The Year of the Dragon celebration continues as my Chinese sacred lilies come into bloom after purchasing a few bulbs from Uwajimaya, a well known Asian market here in Seattle's International District (aka Chinatown).

The bulbs come like this sitting either dry or already rooting in a shallow pan of water and they're grown this way in a bright windowsill until the foliage develops and flowers appear. In China, they take this already intriguing clump of radially arranged bulbs and carve them in a manner where the leaves and stems curl and contort themselves to resemble objects such as baskets, vases, and even a dragon!! It is truly a fine and intricate art form where you can't fully control what you'll get. That's what makes it most fascinating and worth trying.

So I didn't really know what I was doing, but here I go:

So here's what developed after a few days in bright light and a shallow bowl of water:

Here was the blooming result!

It turned out to be a lovely double form and, of course, it was powerfully scented. I decided to have it on display at the Miller Horticultural Library at the Center for Urban Horticulture. I hope they and their many patrons enjoy it! May it bring good luck to everyone!

In search of Ube....or so I thought! Demystifying the confusion between the Purple Yam and the Purple Sweet Potato

This is an update from the original post way back in February of 2012. If you read the comments below, I was clearly incorrect and I've decided to edit this post so it clears up the confusion now that I have a better understanding.



A few weeks back, I found these wonderful tubers that reminded me of my homeland at a local Asian market. At first glance, I immediately thought I had found "Ube" (pronounced OO-beh) AKA the "purple yam". I instantly raved, mentioned it to my family and immediately blogged about it.

But to my disappointment (and slight embarrassment), what I actually bought, which was actually labelled as "PURPLE YAM" is actually a PURPLE SWEET POTATO!

(L) Fresh roots of Ipomoea batatas 'Okinawan Purple' aka Purple Sweet Potato sliced to expose the purple flesh and (R) the cooked potatoes.

Much like the confusion between SWEET POTATOES VS. YAMS during the holiday cooking seasons at the grocery stores, I basically fell for the same thing not truly knowing the difference between the two. THEY ARE NOT TECHNICALLY THE SAME!  Here's a link that clears it up and explains where the confusion began!

First off, true "UBE" is rarely available fresh here in the temperate climate:

UBE or purple yam is A TRUE YAM and botanically known as Dioscorea alata

This beautiful root crop is a very popular starch in the Philippines and I often craved it as it was the main ingredient in many of my favorite childhood snacks and desserts.

It has a lovely smooth texture, a stunningly beautiful flesh that's deep violet when cut into raw and turns a smokey deep purple and has a wonderfully sweet, starchy flavor that's baked or roasted like a baked potato. It is also made into a sweet paste that's used to flavor cakes, sweet porridge, and added to make the famous Halo-halo: a super sweet dessert consisting of fresh and preserved tropical fruits topped with shaved ice, ice cream, a dollop of ube, and condensed milk with sugar.

Now what I have pictured above is Ipomoea batatas, the true Sweet Potato we all know and love and is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a yam. So, of course, when I saw the PURPLE VARIETY OF SWEET POTATO, I immediately thought it was the tubers of the Ube because the market labelled it as "PURPLE YAM".

So here's where the lightbulb really clicked on:  Both the true Ube Yam and Purple Sweet Potato produce the same colored/textured cooked flesh and they're both sweet!!  I'm sure there are more obvious differences in terms of intensity of flavor and such, but it's very easy to assume and call one thing the other. And I'm sure Purple Sweet Potato is often substituted for true Purple Yam

While it's kind of cold to have Halo-halo during the winter, I played around in the kitchen with the tasty PURPLE SWEET POTATO and came up with this pretty presentation:
Roasted Purple Yam topped with jackfruit and vanilla ice cream garnished with mint and sweet violet blossoms.

So, to the gardeners out there. The same "Sweet Potato Vine" that we love to use for annual bedding, window-boxes, hanging baskets and containers is the SAME SPECIES of sweet potato that I bought and the same species many people eat! If you ever take apart an annual planting, you'll often find the fleshy tubers that the vines have formed! These are perfectly edible (organically grown ideally), but just more ornamental in foliage than the sweet potatoes actually farmed for their sweet tubers!

Both Dioscorea alata and Ipomoea batatas are both warm weather plants we can't really grow very well here in the Pacific Northwest (for the tubers) due to our lack of heat, humidity and a lack of a long growing season. However, I've heard of several gardeners in different parts of WA State and also in the Portland, OR region that have had success growing great sweet potato TUBERS from easy season "slips" or young rooted cuttings that are planted as soon as the soil warms up. The true YAM, however, I've never really seen growing outside of greenhouse facilities and it's usually a different species.

I hope this clears up the confusion. Now we all know what we're actually buying and EATING!