Sunday, December 26, 2010

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I bought two holly (Ilex ) bushes about 19 years ago from Spenards Building Supply. Not a specialty nursery by any means, but a store that on and off has had great garden center managers. They have also had some pretty uninspired ones.
I'm pretty certain that the plants are Blue Girl and Blue Boy (Ilex x meserveae) a very hardy hybrid. The Blue boys and girls are hybrids of English holy (I. aquilfolium) and Ilex rugosa. Blue Boy is of course male flowered and Blue Girl, female flowered. These hollies like many of the oldest shrubs in my garden have moved a time or two. These have not been given the best or sunniest spot, they are slow growing and I was dubious about every seeing a berry. Their current home is on the east side of the house near the very small artificial pond. They get a reasonable amount of light, but little straight sun. The site has good drainage and acid soil, both conditions that this plant enjoys. There is shelter from the southeast wind.

Most years I've given the hollies the same fertilizer that I feed to the rhododendrons. I haven't been able to bring myself to prune the shrubs despite their need of a bit of shaping. I've limiting pruning to what little I cut for Christmas. The growth rate is slow, so slow that cutting much off seems ill advised or more precisely painful for this gardener.
This isn't the first year, Blue Girl has had berries, but she does have more than ever before. Now, there are a few hollies in town that are doing better, but I'm comforting myself with the idea that they are older plants and that the Blue couple in my garden will be more fruitful as they mature.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I coveted this plant for a number of years before finally acquiring it. There were a few plants in town that I admired in late fall gardens, but it took me way to long to get it in my garden. Helenium autumnale wasn't available in the local nurseries and I wasn't eager to spend the money on shipping the plant. I finally ordered the seeds from Thompson and Morgan and was rewarded the second year with long lasting fall flowers. The plants are about 7 years old now and still going strong. These have been blooming for about a month or maybe more. This is another great no fuss perennial for southeast Alaska. I trim it back in late fall and give it some compost in the spring.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Okay, most of the garden really is a mess, but again, I'm focusing on the plants that have survived and in some cases thrived despite neglect. Enough on guilt. One of the strategies I've adopted for deck pots is using more perennials instead of the at times needier annuals.
Monarda (probably didydma) or Bee Balm is a late blooming perennial that seems to be happy in the garden beds or in a large pot on the deck. This was another pass-a-long plant whose variety was lost in the chain of gardeners. The long tubular red flowers attract hummingbirds, I'm assuming females and juveniles this time of year. The only care this plant seems to need is a hard trimming back in the fall and a dose of compost or slow release fertilizer in the spring.

Another late season bloomer in the garden is this species of Gentian. This one looks similar to the native blue gentian that grows in our area, but the frilly structures between the 5 petal lobes set this one apart. If I remember correctly the inter petal lobe structures are shaped more like onion domes than frills.
This plant was a gift from Les Brake, who keeps an amazing garden in Willow, Alaska. It seems to have a slow, but steady growth and produces more flowers each year.
I"m fortunate enough to have two of these plants in the garden, one lives on the end of one of the vegetable beds at the feet of a Rose (Maidens Blush) the other is currently between the Horseradish and the cabbage.
From the location of the second gentian, it should be clear which task I need to prioritize in the garden, reconstructing the flower beds so I can move the randomly placed perennials out of the vegetable beds. I have tended to "temporarily" house interesting plants in the vegetable beds and over the years, things are out of hand. The Siberian Elm, White spruce and birch trees definitely need to move.
So far I've managed to get through about half of the flower bed and moved the Ostrich ferns (Matteucicia struthiopteris) out of the flower bed and into a place more suited to their spreading habits. I've lifted a flat or two of daffodils to redistribute once I get the entire area clear.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

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This perennial Geranium was a gift from a friend's garden a number of years ago. It might be Johnson's Blue, but I'm not positive. It forms pretty tidy mounds about 1.5ft tall and wide. The flowers are on the large side, about 2-3 inches across and are consistently veined.
Trollius ledebouri or Golden Globeflower
likes our humid climate and organic soils, blooms later than the yellow flowered species

Near my last day home in June I walked through the garden knowing that after a month of neglect, it wasn't going to look quite as nice as it did after only a few weeks of neglect. It is a bit difficult to keep a good garden and be a field botanist, at times it is a bit embarrassing to have people see the garden. Fortunately I live on the far end of an island and don't have to be embarrassed too often. I've learned to look at individual plants and areas that look good, and that no matter how suboptimal the rest is, there is always something that I can enjoy.


Friday, May 28, 2010

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Meconopsis species (betonicifolia, grandis, baileyi) (Himalayan Blue poppies) are rather striking plants that we can grow in southeast and in parts of the interior of Alaska that gardeners living in areas with warmer summers can find challenging. I'm being a bit cagey about which one I happen to have in my garden. I'm fairly certain that it is grandis, but the tag is long gone.

The commonly cultivated blue poppies are native to the Himalyas (Tibet and western China) and are more easily cultivated in moist, cool areas. My garden is at times a bit too sunny and warm for these plants, or maybe more accurately too dry. I"m slowly moving them to shadier presumably moister parts of the garden.

I found a very helpful web site Meconopsis Group with good information about cultivation, varieties and the history of introduction of the plants to western gardens.

Monday, May 24, 2010

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Another reason to plant Daffodils!

O Rugged Land of Gold by Martha Martin is an entertaining yarn about the authors experiences in the early days of Cobol, a mine site on Chichagof Island. From the notes about the author at the back of the book it seems like Cobol was inhabited from the late 1920's until 1957. No telling when the rows of daffodils and wood hyacinths were planted, but both are still going strong without any assistance from a gardener. There were several rows of what looked like King Alfred daffodils and a few clumps of the Poeticus variety in the photo above. Also surviving was one large European Mountain Ash and a few rhubarb plants. The latter were growing under red alders quite a distance from the ruins of the house.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time to catch the garden blog up to the present. There was a flurry of activity in the garden around the 6-7th of May and then again the last couple of days. The first was in response to the imminent visit of a fellow gardener (trying to avoid beind totally mortified) and the second to a bit of free time (school is out!).
Three of the vegetable beds cleaned up, turned and planted with starts of lettuce (butterhead and leafy), swiss chard, dill, parsley, brussels sprouts, cauliflower (Cheddar) and potatoes. These weren't plants that I started, but seedlings purchased from the local nursery (except the potatoes). There was a time that I would have felt a bit guilty about not starting my own, but I'm feeling a bit more pragmatic about available time. Besides gardening is not about guilt (I repeat that mantra often).
I covered the greens with a plastic pre-perforated with holes and the cole crops with spun row cover to keep them a bit warmer and protect against root maggots.
Also managed to trim some roses, begin clean up on a couple of flower beds and cleaned the greenhouse (it was appalling). Given another solid week, this place might look half way respectable...
I included the photo of the Daffodil because they are one of my favorite flowers for the garden. Deer don't eat them, they multiply, seem to tolerate rain, wind and variable winter temperatures and come in a variety of colors (okay within reason) and blooming time. Varieties bloom in my garden from March through June, some have fragrance (Pipit). The one in the photo has a nice warm pinkish yellow color and unfortunately is currently nameless. There are probably 20-25 varieties in my garden these days, only one of which is less than optimal. Not bad for one type of plant.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

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I picked up my annual half flat of pansies from Mt. Edgecumbe Preschool the first day of the sale instead of the last this year. It was a good move. The color choices were very good, with lots of bicolors, some that I don't see that often. I typically buy the varieties with medium sized flowers: the huge floppy ones don't do quite as well in the wind and rain and the tiny Violas are fine, but not quite as showy or as variable in color. All but two of the plants "Ultima Radiance" either Lilac or Violet which are Viola x wittrockiana hybrids. This cultivar has 2-2.5 inch flowers with a "face". Two of the plants are "Blue Butterfly" with slightly larger flowers (2.5-3.5).
Pansies do pretty well in our wet climate, being tolerant of cool temperatures and rain.
They do require a bit of tending to keep them at their best: feed them, I prefer a slow release fertilizer (eg. osmocote or compost) and pinch back the flowers before they set seed and fruit. Pinching should keep them from getting too lanky later in the season. If they do start to get a bit leggy, take the scissors and trim them back, feed them up and they should regain their attractive form.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Primula denticulata is another fine perennial for southeastern Alaska. I used to have a bit of a snotty attitude about it as it is a pretty common garden plant. I've reformed. Why dismiss an easy to grow, well mannered, lovely flowered plant just because it is well used? I like many things that are abundantly available...toast, coffee, showers ? I'm trying to fight my tendency to only value the unusual or rare and give the common their due.
Back to Primula denticulata or Drumstick primrose, it is a native to open wet meadows in the Himalayas. Apparently this species has been in cultivation since the early 1800's. ( Juneau Primrose Society ).
It can be propagated by seed or by dividing the clumps. This species forms flower buds in the summer/fall that overwinter, so I'd recommend dividing it after blooming.
I've seen white, lavender or a deeper red violet growing in Sitka, but there seem to be other colors available in commerce.
I don't give this plant any special care; just trim off the flower stalks after blooming, feed some compost and periodically divide and this one should do quite well

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Despite traveling, I didn't completely miss out on the herring eggs this year. Managed to get a few buckets up to the house last Friday. I fed the vegetable beds instead of the flowers because the nutrient demand on the annual beds is much higher.
Decided to build my own fuchsia basket this year instead of buying one ready made. Used 4 plants: two Ballerina Blues and one each White Eyes and Sunbeam Cherry. I'm not sure that I saved much money, but I did get to pick a mixture of species that I was curious about.
Also purchased 4 tomato starts in 4inch pots: Siletz, Subarctic, Fantastic and Early Tanana that Lori Adams grew in her greenhouse at her U-pick garden. I haven't grown any of these varieties previously, I've mostly stuck to Sweet Million or similar cherry tomatoes in the past. I repotted them in 6-8 inch pots yesterday. I didn't quite have enough soil ready to pot them in the extra large pots I typically use to grow tomatoes.

Also planted out two varieties of fragrant Oriental lilies (one package with 8 of each) that I picked up at Costco in March: Tom Pouce (pink) and Time Out (white). I think I'll eventually put them in pots on the deck, but for now they are in flats with just enough soil to get things going. Getting the bulbs out of the plastic was the motivating force, even with sawdust, the bulbs start to get moldy if held too long.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ribes sanguineum

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This is one of the easiest and most reliable spring shrubs that we can grow in Sitka. This species of Ribes is native to Pacific Northwest, including coastal California and southern British Columbia. What is most available commercially are cultivars developed from the native species. The shrub in my garden blooms well, but never develops fruit. The cultivar ( King Edward VII) I have doesn't set fruit, I'm not sure if it is the lack of summer heat or the cool spring that prevents the fruit from developing. I took this photo on the 8th of April toward the beginning of its flowering period. The plant is in full bloom now.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Pulomonarias are perennials that are pretty easy to grow in southeastern Alaska. They like to be moist, don't mind some shade and don't need heat to bloom consistently. I have several unknown varietys in the garden, all were pass along plants. The most prolific of the bunch is a salmon flowered variety with yellow-green leaves. It usually blooms first and longest. My favorite is probably the deep blue flowered variety. The leaves are solid green, and not as yellow. The one in the photograph is also pretty nice, blue and pink flowers and spotty leaves.

I do dead head them and give them annual feedings of compost. The pink clumps need to be divided pretty regularly.

This flashy primrose is called City of Juneau, it along with Wanda are two of the early and very brightly colored primroses blooming in the garden right now. Both City of Juneau and Wanda are Primula julieae hybrids ( as is Dorothy, another local favorite). Wanda is a similar color, but has very short flower stalks while Dorothy has light yellow flowers on tall stalks.
These are easy to grow since they seem to appreciate the conditions that are easy to come by in Sitka, moisture, organic matter and partial shade. This group forms clumps by the formation of short stolons. The clumps are pretty easy to separate, I tend to wait until after they are done blooming for the year.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Horseradish buds

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The perennial Vegetables and Herbs seem to be doing well this year. The horseradish was planted about 2 years ago and hasn't been harvested or root trimmed as yet. It is probably time to start before it takes over the bed. On the other hand the strawberries and digitalis might keep it at bay. The leaves are a bit hard to make out in the photo, they are bronze colored this time of year and deeply incised.
Last weekend I finally started some seeds that I had left-over. Started 2 kinds of basil (Lemon and Sweet Green), Dark Green Italian parsley, High Carotene Tomatoes, Touch of Red Calendula, Lunaria and some Pansies. I don't have much hope for the flower seeds (dated 2002 and 2004) but figured it wouldn't hurt to try.
Also pulled a bucket of Cardamine from the garden. The weedy brassicas are doing well

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cornell Pink Rhododendron

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This is one of those plants that seems like a really good idea the years that it blooms. This Rhododendron is deciduous and blooms early in the spring before the leaves unfurl. The problem with this variety is that doesn't bloom most years at least not in my experience. I'm pretty sure that the lack of summer heat is the problem. Photos online of this variety growing in warmer summer areas seem to have much more abundant blooms. It may improve as it ages?

Monday, March 8, 2010

March snow

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I guess I wasn't surprised to see snow in March. The crocuses will probably survive the return to winter, but I'm not so sure about the flower buds on the Ribes sanguineum or the salmonberry. Today's driving snow might be a bit much for those flowers.

Friday, February 19, 2010

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Spent some of this warm and sunny afternoon pulling weeds and digging the carrots. This is the earliest date that I remember spending serious time weeding. I managed to catch the brassicas before they blooomed, but not by much.
I dug the carrots because I didn't want them to start producing vegetative growth and flower stalks with the warm weather. I don't think that it is even vaguely cold enough to keep them in slow growth mode and the increasing light isn't helping with that either.
The french sorrel, onions, kale, and rhubarb are up and growing.
I found a bunch of snowdrops, one crocus, one iris, and one pink pulmonaria in bloom.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A warm mid Winter

January 31

My original plan was to start keeping this blog when I started working in my garden this spring, but was inspired by a crocus on the stage at the music festival concert last night. It is traditional that there is a locally picked flower bouquet on the stage during the summer concerts and I expected to see an interesting arrangement of evergreens and branches for this concert. Instead I was surprised by a small violet colored crocus in a small china vase. Inspired by its appearance, I wandered around the garden today checking for signs of early, very early spring. No bulbs out yet in the garden. The tulips and crocuses are coming up in the pots on the deck. I keep the pots under the picnic table during the fall and winter to avoid minimize freezing and thawing that might happen in the sun and excess water.

The pots contain mixed crocuses, purple and Oilloules Tulips and maybe some snowdrops, I'll find out for certain what I planted at some point this spring.
The Witch hazel flowers opened last week

Also blooming are the New Dawn Viburnum