Flower Solutions for a Shady Front Entry–Make It

Current floral arrangements at my front door

Current floral arrangements at my front door: foliage is 3-4 weeks old, flowers replaced last week

What does your main entry say about you?  The front door is the first impression when guests arrive. Whether close enough to the street to play into “curb appeal” or privately situated behind a hedge or gate, it matters that your home is welcoming.  A little “vignette” next to the front door is cheerful and can celebrate the season.

A homey and unique entry makes you feel good when you come home at the end of a work day and beckons you to hang out on a Sunday morning to read the paper. Part of what makes an entry cozy is plants, flowers and more plants.

We are blessed with a wrap-around, covered deck at our home.  The downside is that the full shade of the patio is a lousy exposure for plants.  Were we in a warmer clime, houseplants could fit the bill to provide the leafy, lush effect I’d like.  Alas tropical plants can tolerate only a very short stay outdoors here in Western Washington.  And rotating potted flowers quickly gets expensive.  Experience has taught me to use our uniformly mild weather as an advantage.

golden sneezeweed, variegated rhododendron foliage and blue sea holly lasted 3 weeks

With some trial and error I found the solution to the problem of my shaded entry is homemade bouquets.  But floral arrangements are short lived, right?  In actuality, depending on what plants you use and the time of the year, cut flowers and foliage in full shade can last weeks to months–just as long or longer than that pricey florist cyclamen.

Whenever I prune the garden, I take the spoils up on the deck and arrange bouquets that substitute for potted plants.  After doing this for many years, I have learned which plants last in water and which do not.  I have my favorite plant and flower combinations and a variety of vases and cache pots collected from vintage and thrift stores.  The cache pots lack drainage holes and therefore make delightful, colorful containers in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Pliable plastic containers are a good bet for winter as they stand up to freeze-thaw.

In the winter a bundle of evergreen branches can look good for months–dress it up with berries, lichen, twigs or cones and it’s a holiday scene.  Switch out branches as they fade and add flowers as they pop up in the garden for an easy, ever changing rotation.  In mid-summer, I have seen the exotic, large leaves of Ligularia and various other perennials last for a month in a tall vase when mindful of changing out the water a few times.  A grouping of vases and pots creates a verdant look on the table saddled up to the front door.

frog on vase blog

Resident frog on the vase

The wall pocket under the porch light is a favored location for a garden bouquet. In fact, for two seasons now, a frog has hung out in the arrangement as it is good cover, a fine source of water and being near the light, a convenient hideout for ambushing insects.  Spotting a glimpse of it or hearing its croak is a source of joy.

On a Sunday morning, I like nothing better than to peruse the garden with a cup of coffee and pruners, selecting flowers, twigs or seed heads to create a new bouquet to spruce up the front porch.  Switching out table cloths and matching vases with the colors and patterns is part of the process.  Curiosities found in the garden are staged there–feathers, rocks, moss. The creative process is satisfying and it’s so fun to come home to.  Who needs a welcome mat?©Colleen Miko 2014

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Glenwood Gardens Plant Fair

Did somebody say “plant fair”?

Roscoa purpurea small

Roscoa purpurea in display beds of Glenwood Gardens

I like nothing more than to spend an afternoon exploring tables of flats and wandering display beds looking for that plant (or two).  Maybe that plant is one I’ve been lusting over for years but have never found in commerce.  Perhaps it’s one I never knew existed; had once and regretfully killed; or one whose texture catches my eye from across the ocean of pots and says, “take me home.”

sign smallGlenwood Gardens is a small, Puget Sound retailer open year round by appointment only or seen at different plant sales throughout Western Washington such as the Northwest Horticultural Society autumn sale.   Coming up soon is the best way to enjoy the nursery: the 6th annual Glenwood Gardens Plant Fair on June 14th. Nancy Hansen, proprietor and plant lover, has a nursery full of that plant.

Glenwood Gardens, with its artfully combined display beds and convenient South Kitsap location, is one of my favorite local plant haunts. Whenever I’m on the hunt for something unusual, I check with Nancy.

In addition to the choice plants on sale from Glenwood, Queen’s Cup Nursery and Longbranch Nursery will have a selection of their cool plants and WSU Kitsap Master Gardeners will be onsite answering gardening questions.  Bats Northwest will be there with an educational booth promoting the protection of the cute, beneficial creatures that grace our night skies. Time your visit to listen to the short demonstration about these fascinating mammals at 1pm.

hoophouse smallOr better yet, come for my presentation of “Water Colors: New Plant Ideas for Functional & Beautiful Rain Gardens”, hear about bats and then go find that plant.

Glenwood Gardens Plant Fair
Free and open to the public.
When: Saturday, June 14, 2014
Time: 10 am to 4pm
Where: Glenwood Gardens Nursery
15015 Owl Place SW Port Orchard 98367 (do not use mapquest or google for directions, best directions are on the nursery’s website at www.glenwood-gardens.com)
12:00 Colleen’s presentation: “Water Colors: New Plant Ideas for Functional & Beautiful Rain Gardens”

Learn more about Glenwood Gardens in the summer issue of WestSound Home & Garden Magazine, on newsstands now through September 1st, 2014.  http://www.WSHG.net

©Colleen Miko, 2014

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Blue Stars in the Garden: Camassia–PLANT FIX

Camassia leichtlinii 'Caerulea' (Blue camas)

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Caerulea’ (Blue camas)

My front garden is a sea of low, mounding plants.  In spring when larger perennials are still waking up, the tall, narrow racemes of blue camas are a counterpoint to the undulating foliage.  Against the backdrop of golden barberry, the 3′ spires of blue stars are electrified.  Hoping to have a sizable swath in time, a few more Camassia bulbs are added each autumn.

There are about 5 species of Camassia, and with the exception of C. scilloides (found on the east coast),  the rest are native to the Pacific Northwest.  The first camas I tried was C. quamash; known in our area as a traditional Native American food.  I loved their easy care and reliable violet flowers but as my garden matured, the diminutive 8-10″ beauties were overcome.

camas full view smallWhen I first saw the larger flowered Camassia leichtlinii, it was at Albers Vista Garden in Bremerton.  They were planted in large drifts, expertly combined with the cheery oranges, yellows and reds of sunroses at their feet.  I was smitten.  As with many taller perennial bulbs with strappy but plain basal foliage, they look great amongst fuller plants that conceal the dying leaves as they shift into dormancy.

The straight species of C. leichtlinii has milky white flowers, whereas blue garden hybrids originate from a subspecies called suksdorfii.  Camas appreciate meadow-like conditions: moist, rich and well draining soil with full sun.  So far they haven’t fallen prey to rabbit or deer, as some other spring bulbs do.

close up smallReferences mention that blue camas are a long lasting cut flower–what gorgeous bouquets I conjure in my head.  However, until I have a bountiful grouping that would provide enough for the vase and still leave that heavenly blue in the garden, the Felcos stay sheathed.  I’m working on it.

 

©Colleen Miko, 2014.

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April and the Poetry of Petals

The bright colors of Lewisia hybrids are unparalleled.

The bright colors of Lewisia hybrids are unparalleled.

April is National Poetry Month; how apropos it’s spring observance. Each new leaf expanding elicits a poem in itself, as with Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. And spring flowers are second only to love in their poetic inspiration. “The earth laughs in flowers”, wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. My garden is positively giggling after the long, somber winter and what pushes up from the cool soil evokes these words:
fresh
tender
unblemished
miraculous
vigorous
ephemeral
and of course, verdant.

Anenome nemerosa epitomizes spring as it disappears into dormancy to ride out the summer

Anenome nemerosa epitomizes spring as it will disappear into dormancy to ride out the summer

It’s quite natural that Marianne Moore likened poetry to “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Frogs sprung for cover and blossoms bobbed in the wind as I captured photos for this post. It was Sunday that a weather front delivered the last of many April showers.  As this week’s sunshine attests: there will be magical verses inspired by the resulting May flowers, if only in my head.

© Colleen Miko, 2014

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Weeds: A Stitch in Time Saves Nine–Yellow Flag Iris

Bag full of iris seed capsules and root sections

Bag full of iris seed capsules and root sections bound for landfill (don’t compost!)

Weeds are a fact of life for every farmer, forester, ecologist, gardener, and property owner.  Plants, like all living things, are concerned with survival and reproduction and mankind has assisted in this endeavor, both to our glee and to our dismay. Some weeds are only “obnoxious”, or “a pain in the grass” as Kitsap County Noxious Weed Coordinator Dana Coggon is fond of saying.  Others are noxious weeds, a legally defined term. In Washington, 50% of all invasive, noxious weeds have escaped from gardens; the remainder have been accidentally introduced by travel and trade.

My current weed challenge is a formidable one of the noxious, escaped-from-gardens kind.  Our large, nearly one acre pond, with it’s year round moist ground and many visiting birds, is a perfect environment for weeds to thrive in the vegetative buffer  surrounding the waters edge.  When we purchased our property in the early 90′s, the pond was mowed to the edge and surrounded by nothing but turf.  In 20 years we have planted a zillion plants around the pond with birds and wind delivering a variety of volunteer natives.  Now the water is obscured from view in areas, according to our landscape plan.

The vegetative buffer is the life blood of our yard and as it has increased and grown up, so have the number of creatures we witness from birds to dragonflies to salamanders.  The buffer is an amazingly dense, protective habitat.  I have always hand weeded around the pond, yanking Himalayan and evergreen blackberries from day one, but doing so gets both harder and easier yearly.  In other words, the more beneficial, native plants get established and sizable, the better they outcompete and shade out weed seedlings, reducing the number to pull.  This same situation makes tenacious noxious weeds more of a challenge.

pond viewBecause of the breadth and height of the buffer (over my head in some places), a plant can get a toe hold before I notice it, making removal more difficult.  This is what happened with the noxious weed yellow flag iris  (Iris pseudoacorus) which now covers massive areas of the pond, growing in water as much as 30″ deep.  Except for bloom time in late spring when it’s yellow flowers are beacons; the grassy, long, sword-like foliage blends in with the cat tails.  Closer examination requires bushwhacking through salal and donning hip waders.

The Negative Impacts of Yellow Flag Iris

The term ‘noxious weeds’ includes non-native grasses, flowering plants, shrubs and trees as well as aquatic plants that invade wetlands, rivers, lakes and shorelines.  Like many noxious weeds, yellow flag outcompetes native plants.  In the wetland environment, yellow flag creates a monoculture that reduces the ability of populations of waterfowl, and other wildlife to support themselves.  Living things that rely on native plants for food or specific habitat for reproduction and life cycle completion are negatively impacted by yellow flag’s ability to clog waterways and displace natives like rushes and sedges.  It is also toxic to livestock, avoided by most herbivores, and causes skin irritation in humans.  Yellow flag is considered invasive in Vermont, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts as well as New Zealand and Australia.

My Control Plan

Foliage only for yard waste recycle--no roots or seeds!

Foliage only for yard waste recycle–no roots or seeds!

My own lack of knowledge allowed this plant to thrive for too long, making eradiation harder.  If only I had acted on removing it when I first learned its classification as Class C noxious weed in Washington, I wouldn’t have needed to remove 2 utility trailers full of yellow flag iris over the long labor day weekend in 2013.  Nor would I likely be working towards a 3-5 year eradication plan with Dana Coggon’s advice.  “A stitch in time saves nine” is the weeder’s mantra.  Or as Dana’s weed newsletters state: “One a day keeps a million away”.

Blooms in late April, early May in W Washington

Blooms in late April, early May in W Washington

Two years ago, when the yellow flowers showed up on the opposite side of the pond, Istarted annually removing all the fruit capsules from the iris to at least prevent spread from seed.  One of the reasons yellow flag is such a daunting noxious weed is that in addition to disk-like seeds that disperse with water movement, the perennial, rhizomatous roots spread laterally from the main plant and any fragments of root are capable of floating off and taking hold. Apparently, one continuous rhizome can support hundreds of flowering plants.

The easiest time of the year for me to remove the 4 angled fruit capsules is late summer when the water level of the pond is lowest.  I remove the individual seed capsules from the long stems and put them in trash bags for the landfill.  The remainder of the flowering stalk has no reproductive capacity and therefore goes in the regular yard waste recycling.  The Kitsap County Noxious Weed Program in partnership with Kitsap County Solid Waste department offers special noxious weed bags that homeowners can use, with a voucher to dispose of the worst noxious weeds at county waste facilities at no charge.

unripe and ripe seed capsules

unripe and ripe seed capsules

Last year my control efforts redoubled per a new handout that Dana created on controlling yellow flag, which includes a new tactic that I hadn’t previously considered–cutting all leaves and stems below the water line.  The idea being, reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, therefore starving the root of energy.  The research she found on this technique states it to be most effective if the plants are cut before flowering–for my area of Washington, that’s March.  Hmmm. that’s when my pond’s water level is the highest.  However, that’s also before many of the native plants surrounding my pond leaf out, which may help somewhat with access.

Last year I cut back all the iris foliage below the waterline, removed all the seed capsules (or so I thought) and yanked any seedlings that I could find.  I did this over labor day weekend, which may not be as effective as doing it in March, but it’s better than nothing.  By September, the plants have collected and stored a powerful amount of food in their strong, persistent roots, but not having another 2 months to store more energy before going dormant should help somewhat.  So begins my 3-5 year eradication plan.

New iris leaves coming up from where I cut them off last fall

New iris leaves coming up from where I cut them off last fall

As I write this in February of 2014, the foliage of the pond’s edge is dormant, making the iris’ foliage very clear and definable.  Though I cut all the iris leaves below the surface of the water last September, they are peaking through, robust and defiant.   If the pond weren’t frozen right now, it would be a good time to cut the foliage back because it is visible and more accessible than any other time of the year.  Not to mention that we have had an unusually dry winter, and the pond’s level is lower than in previous winters–again, easier access.

Last week, when the pond froze over, I went out to take photographs.  On closer inspection of the surface, I was dismayed by the number of iris seeds (they float, which allows for their tenacious spread) imbedded in the surface of the ice.  They are very distinctive–flat disks, burnt orange in color when ripe and relatively large.  I plucked a handful that I could reach by the edge and put them in the trash.  In this major battle, every little bit helps.

Iris seeds frozen on pond surface

Iris seeds frozen on pond surface

And here I had thought I had cut off all last year’s seed heads.  Arrg!

This year I plan to add a fourth tactic when I start digging the most accessible plants out by the rhizomes, though this inevitably will leave pieces of root to re-grow.    The idea is that with each technique I employ with yellow flag iris, the better control I will get over time.  My goal is at some date in the future I will spend a few hours a year with scouting and control, as opposed to this last year’s four full days of removal.

Learn More

To read Kitsap County Noxious Weed Program’s information on yellow flag iris and control options: http://county.wsu.edu/kitsap/nrs/noxious/Pages/Weeds.aspx Click on “Yellow flag” or peruse the other excellent resources on that page.

For more information on yellow flag iris, visit the Washington State Noxious Weed Website: http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/siteFiles/Yellow_flag_iris.pdf

©Colleen Miko 2014

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Persicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’ –PLANT FIX

Persicaria virgniana ‘Vareigata’ shines in autumn

Such a cool plant–but I can never remember it’s name.  I purchased it from the old Heronswood Nursery in Kingston as Persicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’, but I see it listed from time to time now with the genus name of Tovara.  This is one plant I’ve not seen offered in a local nursery since I bought it–catalog order is most likely your only source.

Regardless of it’s plant tag or how you get your hands on it, this is a swell perennial that I have never needed to divide in the 15+ years I’ve had it, and it’s produced a mere 2 seedlings after the only summer warm enough for 1 of my three original plants to flower.  I have heard that the original green form from the Eastern United States can become a bully.  For me, anyway ‘Variegata’ is nothing of the sort.

Look ma! no “chevron”

Many know of Tovara virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’–recognizable by the distinctive maroon chevron on each variegated leaf.  But plain ‘Variegata” has no red patterning and I prefer it–a tad cleaner look in my eyes.  It’s perfect with the bright blue fall blooms of monkshood, a standout foil to any plain green foliage, and a dramatic companion to the dark purple leafed Ligularias.  The lightly colored leaves bring a bright splash to a dark location and in the early evening, or during a full moon, it positively glows.

Persicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’ superficially resembles a Hosta.  Taking awhile in spring to get going, you’ll not remember it’s dallying come summer and fall–when it looks strong and healthy–not tired and ready for dormancy, like Hostas do right about now.

Lighting up a partial shade bedPersicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’ requires afternoon shade and it doesn’t tolerate drought.  Afternoon sun will cause it to wilt, even with ample water–and that’s here in our notoriously cool summer Pacific Northwest.  In warmer climes than mine, full shade might be requisite.  This is not, however, a water hog that likes wet feet.  It prefers either soil with a high humus content or heavier consistency that doesn’t dry out too quickly.  The right site and you’ll be in for a long, rewarding relationship with Persicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’.  Happy plant hunting.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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The Spot for Garden Art–Design Inspiration

What is this place in Ellensburg, WA?

This summer on my way to a meeting, I fell upon something fabulous and inspirational.  I am always moved by outdoor spaces where its obvious the creator is both artist and gardener.  In this case, the home and garden that entranced me was fashioned by two well known artists.  The boldness, the scale, the detail  made it such that there’s no way that anyone in the little town of Ellensburg, Washington is unaware of the corner I was parked in front of smiling.

little spotLucky to have my good camera on me, I gleefully skipped out of my parked car into the sunshine. “Dick and Jane’s Spot”, as the sign & visitor kiosk would have, was the place.  I snapped photo after photo taking in the site that I would in my limited art lingo, refer to as folk art.  The diversity of mediums and substrates much appearing to be salvaged and recycled, a variety of styles, themes and humor all intimated this was the work of multiple hands.  To the pleasure of accidental tourists like myself, “What is this place?” is answered in the kiosk: “the spot” represents the skills of more than 40 artists.

little spotsThe 10 minutes I had to enjoy Richard Elliot and Jane Orlemon’s garden was an unexpected treat.  My photos and the website have allowed me pleasurable visits several times since.  One of the first things that nabbed me was the use of bottle caps–10,000 says the website.  For 2 years I had been collecting and asking friends to collect beer caps having been inspired by a so-adorned door front in the historic town of Bisbee, Arizona.  I yearned for a similar project at home and would start shortly after witnessing the Spot.

little bucklesBottle caps are smattered across wooden fences combined with reflectors, Richard Elliot’s most famous medium.  Caps, both metal and plastic cover posts and are woven into metal fences in melodic, colorful patterns.  Buckles and chains, wing nuts and keys–some painted, some rusted–enliven every surface.  There were groups of school and teenage kids that came by and signed the guest book, taking it all in as I did.

little garageThere are mosaic paths of pebbles, tile and reclaimed materials; a bright wall bedecked in hubcaps whose patterns resemble kaleidoscopes; neon art; sculptures, bottle trees and of course, a lovely garden backdrop. On the north wall of the house is a series of Dick Elliot’s reflector art installations and a sculpture row of stacked insulators from the Grand Coulee Dam.  Jane’s painterly hand is evidenced everywhere.  It’s an understatement to call this place photogenic.

little uncle

Uncle Sam, a sculpture by Jane Orlemon

Stumbling upon “the Spot” this summer was serendipitous for me; but it’s the kind of place I would go out of my way to see.  I recommend enjoying it in person if you can and learning more about Richard (Dick) Elliot and Jane Orlemon’s art and their garden delight online if you can’t.  http://www.reflectorart.com features their biographies, impressive artistic work and on the part of the site dedicated to the Spot, a cool 2 minute video in which Jane and Dick talk about their unique corner in Ellensburg, WA.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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The Soul Garden–The Perennial Bookworm

Soul Garden coverThe Soul Garden:.  Creating Green Spaces for Inner Growth & Spiritual Renewal.  Donald Norfolk, 2002.  The Overlook Press, 288 pages, 8.3 x 5.7″, $27.95 (hardcover).

Most gardeners and professional horticulturists believe that the act of creating, tending and sitting in a garden promotes well-being. The science of horticultural therapy provides backing to the notion that  gardeners have speculated on since the beginning of man; which is: being outside in the presence of lush plants is good for us.  We who tend gardens as a hobby or business receive the direct benefits, though we don’t often dwell on why this is so or how to cultivate a garden specifically to promote health.

Delving into history, the author of the Soul Garden shares the philosophies of others who, back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, have espoused the healing power of gardens.  While recommending landscape features that inspire spirituality and the kinds of outdoor activities that can give meaning to our lives, the book also discusses some of the philosophic basis for horticultural therapy.  Unfortunately, there is scant mention of the hard science that is being done in this burgeoning field.

One of the most powerful parts of the book for me was the discussion of what I would call  gardening obsession and how the drive to work, improve and collect as part of the hobby  can detract  from the spiritual enjoyment one can take from the garden setting.  As a gardening addict myself, I found some of this argument spot on, but other reasoning false.

For instance, collecting plants, knowing their classification and Latin names is satisfying for me as it expands my understanding of the individual plants themselves, the field of botany and related  natural sciences.  I suppose that if I were so obsessed with the act of collecting that I could not expand my appreciation for plants beyond the act of procuring and cataloging them, that might be another story.

The argument that did resonate with me is that it’s important  to remind ourselves that if we only look at the garden through the eyes of the do-er, we aren’t taking advantage of the full power of the garden to ground and balance us.  No doubt I am guilty of this; looking out into my yard and seeing only the chores, or the so-called failings in my  mind, whether they be of design or maintenance.  Or perhaps my focus is on stemming the tide of plant disease or death, when in reality, that’s part of the cycle of life that quite often we can’t control.

This book is a refreshing reminder to continually enjoy and find repose in the garden.  After all, it we don’t take the time to savor the fruits of our labor, why is it that we tend and create gardens in the first place?   In other words, if the hammock goes unused due to chores, perhaps one needs to re-think the garden.  If the bench becomes merely a focal point at the intersection of an axis and not a place to stop, sit and appreciate the vista, the gardener needs to gently re-direct back to the concept of gardening for the soul.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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Sarcococca confusa (Sweet box)–PLANT FIX

Sweet box branches in a handthrown vase by Dotty Patrick

Sweet box branches in a handthrown vase by Dotty Patrick

Valentine’s Day is upon us and I’ve always thought that the best gift for a sweetheart that adores flowers is a PLANT.  A bouquet is beautiful, but a flowering plant is the “gift that keeps on giving”.  And so, the ideal present in my mind is a witch hazel, hellebore, camellia or Sarcococca–anything with a lovely winter flower to brighten up gray days.  Even if it’s a bare root, as yet barren rose–the gardener knows the potential and will appreciate the thoughtful gesture of many a bouquet to come.

Some type of fly visits Sarcococca flowers

Some type of fly visits Sarcococca flowers

Over the years I have added several winter bloomers to my garden so that I have “flower power” to get me through the dark days. Sarcococca confusa shrubs are planted in shady locations so that their strong fragrance finds me when I’m out in the garden, or more commonly at this time of the year, on my way to and fro work.  The scent of Sarcococca in late January and most of February lifts my spirits.  As soon as I notice it, I clip some branches to put in a tall vase by my front door and bring a handful inside for further enjoyment.

A handful is all you need.  Some who are sensitive to strong perfumes might find sweet box too much for a closed-in space, but I adore it.  If your front door is on the north side of the house, I recommend planting a Sarcococca there.  Alas, my entry faces west and receives way too much sun for sweet box.  No worries–a tall vase of branches on the front porch  lasts a long time in the cool of the outdoors, way beyond that of the vase on my dining table.  Sarcococca is most attractive when grown in full shade and rich soil.  It will grow with more sun provided it is given ample water, but the leaves will be smaller, yellower and less glossy.

My desire to bring the flowers indoors turned into an opportunity to prune the Sarcococca growing lushly on the north side of my garage.  As I rustled the branches, various flies and other tiny insects like gnats took to the air.  Ah ha!  These must be the pollinators for the tiny, white, petalless flowers.  No bees, beetles or other better known winged-ones were in sight.  Flowers are fragrant, after all, to insure cross pollination, not for human pleasure, though what a wonderful by-product.  There are both male and female flowers on Sarcococca, and the males are distinguished by long white anthers.

The flowers are hardly noticeable amongst the foliage.  Back in my nursery days I remember customers whiffing large, scentless camellias or anything blooming nearby in search of “that heavenly smell”.  It was always fun to introduce people to sweet box and see their surprise that such an inconspicuous blossom could pack a punch. Sarcococca confusa is an evergreen shrub that reaches approximately 5′ feet high by 5′ wide in time and is largely pest and disease free.

A Valentine’s bouquet of sweet box from your garden or a 1 gallon pot or larger (Sarcococca does bloom when young) would be a welcome gift for your flower-loving sweetheart or yourself.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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Local Chocolate Tradition–100 years of Sweets for your Sweetie

rocaDid you know that Brown & Haley, the manufacturer of Almond Roca® is a Washington company that has been in business 100 years? Brown & Haley is the third largest maker of boxed chocolates in the United States and its yummy candy is sold in more than 63 countries.

My Mom’s favorite candy was Almond Roca® and the familiar pink tin was a gift giving staple in our house. It wasn’t until I moved to Port Orchard that I learned it was made in Tacoma.  Upon further research, I was discouraged to find that the plant wasn’t open for tours.  Housed in the same downtown Tacoma  building since 1919, the chocolate factory is not set up for public viewing.  The chocolatier has a long and fascinating history, and OUTLET STORES; both things Mom would have truly appreciated.

IMG_0676The proximity of the factory to the Camp Lewis military base provided the initial market for what started out as the “Mt.Tacoma” bar, now the Mountain® Bar.  Almond Roca® was created in 1923 and became a big hit at the base. The later introduction of the pink tin in 1927 expanded  the shelf life of the buttercrunch toffees and Brown & Haley signed a contract with the US War Department to ship Almond Roca® to overseas military personnel.  This is how much of the world was introduced to Mountain® Bar and the buttercrunch confection that now comes in the flavors of mocha, cashew, dark, macadamia, candy cane and sugar free.

brown and haleyTo learn more about the history of Brown & Haley, visit their website www.brown-haley.com and check out the two outlet stores–one in Fife and one in Tacoma to get some great deals on chocolates for Valentine’s Day or for mailing to out of state friends for other occasions.  The best bargains are the “manufacturing bloopers” or “boo-boos” which are what they call the chocolates that came off the processing line looking less than perfect, but that still taste divine–those go in our freezer for home enjoyment.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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