The Other Foxgloves

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Yellow foxgloves look great with blue (West Hills Hebe foliage and Sapphire Blue sea holly flowers)

Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis lutea) is a hummingbird magnet!  I know, it surprised me, too.  After all, aren’t hummingbird plants supposed to be red? Turns out, that any tubular shaped flower with sweet nectar can appeal to hummingbirds. I frequently see them, along with bumblebees, visiting yellow foxglove during its long bloom season of mid-June to mid-July, about the same time frame as their more common pink brethren.

When I first moved to Washington, I fell in love with everyone’s favorite weed: common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).  Since it thrives in my garden sans care, I reasearched foxglove species, suspecting that there would be others that were similarly easy.

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I purchased seed of yellow foxglove and another species, Rusty foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea). I successful started both from seed and now I they are established in many parts of my garden–gleefully volunteering. Both grow in part or full sun, average soil and don’t need fertilizer or staking.

Both yellow and rusty foxgloves are short lived perennials.  Like common foxglove, each basal leaf rosette takes a year of growth and establishment before they bloom.  The second year they elongate into a tall raceme with flowers that open from the lower part of the stalk to the top over several weeks.  Rusty foxglove blooms after the other two, beginning in mid to late July and reaches up to 40″ in a graceful, narrow spire.  Yellow foxglove is shorter than the other two, usually topping out at 3′ in flower.

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Rusty foxgloves

I have found that yellow and rusty foxgloves are longer lived that the purple type, which exhibits a typical biennial habit, usually not living more than 2 or 3 years.  I have some clumps of yellow and rusty foxgloves that are going on 5 years old, by which time they can produce more than one flowering stalk and sometimes one that branches bountifully. In my experience, they start to peter out after that but that’s when the next generation of seedlings is up and blooming.

Since the basal clumps of leaves don’t take up much room vertically or horizontally, its easy to accommodate multiples.  I always let a few produce seed, wanting to have plenty for succession, feeding pollinators, flower arrangements and to share with my gardening friends.

It is easy to tell these foxglove species apart when it comes time to thin volunteers.  Yellow foxglove leaves are smooth, not fuzzy and have a yellow-green hue (middle image).  Rusty foxglove leaves are smooth on top, a little hairy underneath, dark green and decidedly more linear than common foxglove (right).  Like D. purpurea (left), the other species are very poisonous if ingested.  This can be an advantage to preventing garden predation and pests, but something to be aware of if you have toddlers or pets.  Thankfully, something in the garden undeterred by deer, rabbits or slugs!

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Left--yellow foxglove with a pollinating visitor. Middle–groups of yellow foxglove; great for cut flowers and mass impact. Right–tall, stately rusty foxglove budded up and ready to start blooming.












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Homemade Hose Guides

small open bed with hose guides

I have an open, ground-level bed in my vegetable garden, where I rotate corn with other crops, and it needs protection from the sweeping and crushing effects of the watering hose.  I had been using rebar scraps for that purpose–crude but effective.  However, anything with low visibility, such as a short, rusty stake, is a magnet for me to smack and scrape my shins so I brainstormed something more visible, as well as more attractive.

small hose guard and rebarI love it when I can make something useful out of scraps.  My homemade hose guards/guides are created with left-over pieces of pvc pipe, a broken beaded belt, ping pong balls, wooden candle cups and old latex paint and latex primer. Yep, random stuff.

To make them, I cut the pvc to even lengths (18″) and sanded it so it would take the paint well.  Then I primed & painted everything and glued the ping pong balls and/or candle cups to the top of the pipe using 100% silicone adhesive caulk.  Then as an added bit of sparkle (and for added strength), I used more caulk to wrap strings of seed beads around where the top “finial” met the pipe.  I finished it up with a glass gem on top.  Then I slid them over the top of the sturdy but shorter rebar and sunk them in a few inches. And, voila!

So that they last a few seasons, in the fall when I store my hoses away, I’ll bring in the hose guides, too.  Easy enough to put them out again in spring–the rebar stays in place.

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Vegetable Garden Pest Prevention

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4′ x 8′ raised beds with 4 galvanized pipe hoops, cross bar and floating row cover for crop protection

In my edible garden, floating row cover (also known by brand names like Reemay or Agribon) is my go-to pest control method. It’s helpful to control a variety of pests from birds, to carrot rust fly, imported cabbage moth, and so on.  The term I should use rather than control, is deter.   Covering my vegetables and herbs with the very thin, spun polyester fabric physically blocks the pests from getting to the plants to eat them–it excludes them so that I don’t have to resort to control methods. It’s a preventative technique to deter the establishment of pests.

Other benefits:
• Protects tender plants from wind, driving rain, the weight of snow, and intense sun;
• Provides heat retention and elevated humidity;
• Allows in light, rain, and air flow.

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Under the row cover: cross support tied to hoops for stability.  Happy chard, beets, basil!

I use removable galvanized hoops as frames for draping and securing floating row cover. A friend who has a handy metal bending tool arched the 10′ metal pipes to be 4′ wide at the base, which matches the inside diameter of my raised beds. By sinking the cut ends of 4 hoops into the soil along the inside walls at even distances and held stable across the top by a cross bar (an 8′ fiberglass garden stake), the frame is secured. You can make hoops from pvc pipe, if you prefer.

Once the hoops are in, I drape the row cover over, allowing enough extra fabric around all the sides to pool on the soil level. Then anything heavy can be used to secure the fabric to the soil just inside the walls, I have used bricks, rocks, a length of lumber. A note about rocks–round ones easily roll away when the fabric billows in a gust of wind.

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Flat, narrow pieces of flagstone work well to weigh down edges of fabric.

The fabric needs to be secured to the hoops, as well. There are curved plastic clips (snap clamps) made especially for this purpose that attach well onto straight sections of the pipe (less on curves). You can make your own out of short sections of pvc, or use very large metal clips used for securing paper. A square of nylon or heavy plastic between the clip and the row cover prevents tearing so the fabric lasts longer. Most of the time, I get about a year, sometimes more out of the row cover before it is torn and degraded by the elements.

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Snap clamp secures fabric to cross bar with nylon underneath to prevent rips.

Some of my crops are covered all year round, from the time I plant seed to the final harvest: carrots to prevent carrot rust fly, radishes to exclude flea beetles and cabbage maggot, any crucifer (kale, cabbage, broccoli, etc) to prevent imported cabbage moth caterpillars. These are much harder to control once they become established (especially soil borne insects). One ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when I’m trying to grow healthy, clean food.

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Big clamps work great to secure fabric to curved sections of hoops.  Fabric weighted down all around.

For other crops, I use it just to protect the seed until it germinates and gets strong enough to endure pests or the elements. With beans, corn, peas, it keeps birds from eating the seed before they even have a chance. Or with eggplant, to provide it a little extra warmth until summer kicks in. Then I remove the cover so they can get as much sun as possible. With lettuces it might be the opposite–cover to protect from intense sun, extending its harvest window.

Row cover comes in different thicknesses that allow for more or less light to get in, and come in different lengths and widths, pre-cut and rolls. There are many options depending on why you’re using it and for what crops.

Besides on frames, I’ve loosely blanketed a raised bed with the cover, lightly weighed down on the edges for short seedlings. It works well loosely tacked directly to the ground over rows of emerging corn seedlings; draped over a tomato cage that’s protecting a newly planted, delicate cucumber while our nights are still quite cool. I keep finding new uses for it and swear by it for successful vegetable gardening.

To learn more: How to use floating row cover WSU Publications

Benefits in this fact sheet from WSU Snohomish County Extension: Benefits of Row Cover WSU Snohomish County Extension

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Miniature Champagne Bouquet

prosecco bouquet smallIs there anything cuter than a miniaturized version of something? When I opened my Christmas present from my niece Sarah and discovered the tiny bottle of prosecco, it elicited the same response I have to kittens. I knew the adorable bottle would be fun to repurpose as a vase.

Lily of the Valley are plentiful in my May garden and of the perfect scale for the approximately 5″ tall bottle. Fabulously fragrant, the delicate white bells even vaguely resemble bubbles frothing out in a celebratory fashion.  A champagne bottle bouquet would make a happy little gift of congratulations.  Sip a glass while you’re enjoying your floral arranging and it’s the gift that gives back!

If you have repurposed something into a vase, I’d love to hear about since I’m always looking for inspiration for quirky floral arrangements AND reusing things.

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Inspiration Rocks!

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Beautiful roadside messages from an unknown neighborhood artist(s).

Since our shelter at home orders began, our peaceful and appealing neighborhood road has seen more walkers and joggers than ever. I frequently walk to the beach for good exercise, but I also find it meditative. A stroll quiets the mind and fresh air invigorates the body.

A few weeks into the pandemic, out of nowhere, suddenly and randomly along the street, painted rocks appeared with the messages of HOPE, FAITH, JOY. A week later: GRACE, LOVE. The beautiful and colorful stones; left by unknown artist(s) to inspire others and send positive messages to any and all who happened upon them, resonated and became a topic amongst neighbors as we passed each other along our road: “Did you see the rocks?”

I was so moved, I decided to add my own sentiments for passers by, and started gathering rocks from my garden to adorn. What words would I choose to add?

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My own Inspiration Rocks

I selected the rocks for flat surfaces that wouldn’t be too bumpy to paint legibly and faces large enough to accommodate the words that could serve as meditative mantras for walkers. After washing and drying, I painted a background on the top with latex house paint. I chose a contrasting color for the letters. A bottle of acrylic paint with a fine-lined applicator allowed me to add an imperceptible shadow–create a little dimension to each letter. Then after a few days of drying, I applied a clear acrylic spray coat for exterior use to seal them.

There’s something about painting rocks that is very freeing–less intimidating to put down the first brush stroke.  Its not a blank, fresh canvas meant for Art with a capital A.

I placed my messages in a grouping at my mailbox along with two cheerful painted rocks that were gifts: a ladybug from a Master Gardener friend, and a dot mandala painted for me by my dear and endlessly creative friend Louise. About that same time, a neighbor who paints mesmerizing mandala patterned rocks put hers out along the street. Her message to passersby: BREATHE.

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Perfume Bottle Bouquet of Gold Lace Primrose

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“Perfume bottle bouquet” of  Gold Lace Primrose.

Could there be a cooler looking flower? I remember when I first saw Gold Lace Primrose (Primula x polyantha ‘Mahogany Sunrise’), I was smitten with the combination of deepest, velvety red with bright gold. I associate these rich, warm colors with late summer blooms, not the typical pastels of spring.

The adorable picotee of gold around each petal makes the individual flowers stand out from others in the umbel, which can include up to a dozen flowers. In my experience, flowers that are this interesting seem to be over-bred and are therefore weak and short lived. When I planted it more than 15 years ago, I never expected that it would be around and thriving after so long.

Contrary to it’s appearance, this is a hardy perennial in my garden (zone 5-8). From one 4″ plant, it is now a full clump around 18″ across. At my place it thrives in bright, open shade with no direct sun and soil that receives regular irrigation in all but the very middle of summer. At the foot of a vigorous vine, it holds its own with the competition. Were it to receive morning sun, I think it would still thrive, but perhaps it would then require regular summer irrigation. Did I mention that it’s evergreen?

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15+ year old clump of Gold Lace Primrose thrives in a moist and shady location at the foot of a vine.

It has a lengthy bloom time. As I write this at the end of April, its about 2 weeks past it’s prime flowering (not that it doesn’t still look wonderful). It starts up around the beginning of April, and won’t be finished blooming until mid-May. I note a few holes in the leaves–slugs, no doubt. Luckily, the slimy ones don’t nearly get the best of it like they do hosta and ligularia; likely because the leaves are slightly felty.

Its so darned cheerful, I can’t resist plucking a few for a tiny vase. With its wispy stems, this is a fun and long lived cut flower for a repurposed perfume bottle. Colognes come in such unusual bottles, so I save them for wee bouquets. Since the openings are typically the width of a pencil, only flowers with the thinnest of stems fit in them as a grouping.

The very wispy stems of Gold Lace Primrose work great in diminutive vases, as do fragrant lily-of-the-valley and fine flowering stems of Osmanthus x burkwoodi or O. delavayi. A single flower with thicker stem will often fit. Last week I put one Camassia (Camass) flower stalk in a perfume bottle to admire it on my kitchen windowsill.

If you have a dressing table, a perfume bottle bouquet would be amusing amongst the other scented decanters.  Have fun!


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Winter Hazel: Carefree Charm

corylus blog 1 smThe thicket of Corylopsis (Winter hazel) glows and beckons from the distant corner of my yard. Being the first of the plants in that spot to wake, and before their leaves even unfurl, the hundreds of delicate and dangling yellow flowers catch my eye from afar.

Years ago I was gifted ten or so unmarked 2 gallon pots of Corylopsis. The grower, Randy Raub, had a surplus, and they were becoming pot bound and too heavy to drag to market each week. I was thrilled. I just so happened to have a vast area ready to plant.

The far side of my pond had been a patch of weak, weedy grasses and the occasional scotch broom that could barely get a foothold in heavily compacted fill. After 2 summers of improving the soil with copious compost, cover crops and rototilling, the Winter hazel were planted en masse into the newly rich and roomy soil. 18 or so years later, it is an amazing hedgerow: intentionally wild and almost impenetrable. Birds forage and nest there.

Other than a good soaking about once a month through their first summer in the ground, these Corylopsis have thrived without a gardener’s guiding hand to prune, water, fertilize or fuss. In fact, I rarely think of them until spring when they gently call me to appreciate their carefree charm. When graced by early rays of sunshine, and again late in the day, the flowers positively light up.

corylus blog smThough without plant tags, I can see two distinct forms amongst my plants. One shorter, most similar to C. pauciflora (Buttercup Winter Hazel), with drooping flower racemes of creamy yellow bells. Those plants are about 6′ high and wide. The second form is stretching to 12′ and beyond now, so could be a C. sinensis hybrid with longer clusters of pendant yellow bells crowded with dark anthers. All are as wide as they are tall, with their horizontal branch structures criss-crossing and sharing the same space happily. Were they to grow in more sun, they would likely be more densely branched, but they tend to a very open and horizontal form naturally. The vase shape is all the better to show off the flowers.

In another area of the garden I have a C. pauciflora trained as a standard, or single trunked tree. Its not as vigorous as the shrubs in the thicket, being grafted onto a root stock that constrains its growth. It, too, has the demure charm of producing hanging panicles of buttery bells before the leaves break. The standard, like the typical shrub form, has the oval shaped leaves commonly found in the Hamamelidaceae (Witch hazel) family.

I have read that Winter hazel flowers are fragrant, but I’ve not detected a scent. No matter, it needs no perfume to capture my heart. In spring, its sweet awakening reminds us of our beloved, long-departed cat who shared the name Hazel. And while some might say her calico personality would be better represented with Witch hazel, Corylopsis reminds us of her all the same.

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Shelter in the Garden

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Heart stepping stone & Rudbeckia flowers

Anytime I feel worried, distracted or stressed out, the garden is my refuge. As my husband and I shelter at home, we, like many of you, have found solace outdoors and in observing the creatures with whom we share our garden.

This week I have experienced sunshine on my brow, wind whipping at my neck, and what looked like a giant bean bag had exploded over the yard (an unexpected hail storm). Just experiencing the beauty and variety of changing spring weather firsthand reminds me that I’m alive, that I have so much to be grateful for.

In nurturing other living things–from houseplants to spring bulbs, to seedlings to mason bees to compost (yes, compost is alive–very alive!), we nurture ourselves. When its hard to concentrate or absorb things intellectually and emotionally, gardening grounds us.

I am thankful that I have a garden space, the physical ability and free time to work outside, and so many kind gardening friends who share the love of plants. My wish for you during this difficult time–that you can give yourself some self-care time in the garden.

To read fascinating research by UW Professor Kathleen Wolf and others: “that nature experiences provide an antidote to stress and support general wellness, offering restorative experiences that ease the mind and heal the body”, check out Green Cities: Good Health webpage

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Peas: Sweet & Snappy


Snap Peas planted in early to late March should be ready to harvest mid to late June.

It’s time to plant peas–we’re a few weeks from average last frost date (April 15th in Kitsap County).

Last year I grew snow peas (a favorite from my childhood); this year I’ve chosen sugar snap.  And because I love fragrant flowers, I usually grow sweet peas, too.  This year I’m trying Finnriver Sweet Pea Mix grown by Essential Blooms in Chimacum, WA for Hudson Valley Seed Co.

Peas are a cool weather crop, which makes it hard to remember that if you plant them too early, they won’t germinate–and in our wet soils, the seeds can rot before sprouting.

I’ve heard people say they like to get them in around President’s day, but in my garden, that’s too early in all but the warmest of springs.  Of course, nothing says you can’t be early & optimistic, replanting later if needed.

Besides planting too early, one of the pitfalls I’ve experienced is losing the seed and/or tiny sprouts to hungry birds. It’s happened with corn and beans, too. When I think about it, it makes sense–the seed I’m putting in the ground is the form I myself will eat at harvest time (perhaps just a bit drier). Why wouldn’t a bird be drawn to the nourishing meal of a whole pea, bean or corn kernel?

This is why I take an extra step after I plant peas (and beans and corn), and cover the area with some wire mesh.   It’s kind of a pain, but it’s better than having to plant seed again in a few weeks, having lost precious growing time.

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Mesh is tied to trellis with twist tie and secured on the ends with metal landscape staples.

Well-secured and staked in place 6 inches over the soil level, the mesh protects it from getting crushed or eaten before the seedling forms the first 2 sets of true leaves. When they’re all up and thriving, the mesh comes off and I begin to train them to climb.

For more information about growing peas in the Pacific Northwest, WSU’s Home Gardening Series has a great publication: Growing Green Peas in the Home Garden

To learn about Essential Bloom’s Finnriver Sweet Pea Mix: Essential Blooms

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Bees, Please!

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Bee Happy! Plant asters for nectar and pollen.

Savvy gardeners are learning how important bees and other pollinators are to a healthy and abundant garden.  A healthy garden is a balanced eco-system with plentiful habitat for beneficial insects. We can say “Bees, Please!” by limiting our  pesticide use, by growing a variety of flowers that bloom in different seasons and by keeping some areas of our yards more natural. One way to do this is to keep and use mother nature’s free mulch: fallen leaves!

Learn how you can make a difference in your own garden:

Publication by Timothy Lawrence, WSU: Pollination and Protecting Bees and other Pollinators
Xerces Society: Bring Back the Pollinators

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