Arum italicum (Italian Arum)—New WA State Noxious Weed


Arum italicum in May

I have Arum italicum (Italian arum) in my garden, and in fact, 4 years ago I posted an ode to its beauty and ease of care in the garden.  I will be digging it out this spring after learning that the plant is listed for 2015 on the Washington State Noxious Weed list.

I remember seeing it for the first time in at the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland, WA.  There it was used as a dramatic herbaceous foil to their fabulous April display of spring bulbs, and of course, lilacs.  I subsequently purchased it for my garden.  This was in the mid-90s, but the tuberous plant has proven to be too successful at naturalizing in the wild.

The cultivar ‘Marmoratum’ is better known than the straight species because it’s leaves have a striking white pattern.  My arum has plain green leaves.  Either way, I understand that once plants are established, they are difficult…

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Camellia Floating Flower Arrangements–Make It

floating camellias blog

Camellia flowers in a vintage, footed bowl

There are several flowers that lend themselves particularly well to floating on water rather than bunched on their stems in a vase. These flowers tend to hang downward from the stem, so that  their cheery faces are obscured.  Many species of hellebores, which are in bloom now, have nodding blossoms.  This is why many of the newest hellebore cultivars have been bred with Helleborus x niger, a species with upturned flowers so that we can better appreciate the flowers.  Hellebores look darling in floating arrangements, and I have featured them as such in previous posts.

camellia bud small

Camellia bud a few days from opening.

Another flower well-suited for floating are camellias. The late winter, early spring camellias can often be hidden on the stem under their big, waxy leaves.  And the blooms attach to the stem so tightly and at an angle that makes them challenging to arrange in traditional fashion.

Camellia flowers are flattened on the back, and when removed from the stem entirely, look great doing the backstroke. This way the flowers are center stage.  Because they are heavy, they are best placed in a very shallow dish so that they don’t sink and become waterlogged.  I have several vintage, footed dishes that are perfect for arranging camellias this way.

When floating face up, the true beauty of the camellia flower is revealed–the luminous sheen of the petals, the intensity of color, and in some types, irregular streaks of color.  Camellias are common landscape plants in most parts of the country and grow with ease and little care.  Due to this, we may take them for granted.  Step out and pick a few flowers and float them in a bowl on your kitchen island–I guarantee you’ll find a new appreciation for camellias.

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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Insect Hotels–Design Inspiration

insect hotel smallGoing to the NW Flower & Garden Show yesterday recharged my gardening batteries. Inspiration was everywhere, but mostly in the people I met and those I reconnected with.  Landscapers, horticulturists, welders, sculptors, painters–artists all, whose ingenuity and skillful craft lit my fire for spring and for my own creative process.

So many artistic mediums spoke to me as I took in the garden vignettes and vendor booths but one of the most intriguing expressions came from the show garden done by West Seattle Nursery.  Cleverly called “Birds Do It…Bees Do It” (the overall show theme is Romance Blossoms), the garden focuses on welcoming our winged friends and features several charming insect hotels.

For many years I have been drawn to these functional works of art meant to provide habitat for beneficial insects and spiders.  Fashioned from reclaimed materials, twigs, rocks and whatever strikes the creator’s fancy, insect hotels are a mass of tiny, protective nooks and crannies.  The tenants are encouraged to deliver pollination services and natural pest control.  The garden display’s insect hotels were imbedded in a rock wall, garden steps and mounted on a tool shed.

small insect hotel 2Magazines and blogs of late have shown incredibly beautiful insect hotels, both diminutive and massive, as the concept has become more popular.  I saw at least one nursery selling them at the show.  Most of these art installations play on the contrast between hard and soft materials such as clay roofing tiles and moss, or difference in scale, as between bundles of thread-like twigs wedged next to slices of wood with age-telling rings.  Pattern repetition plays in, along with surprising repurposing of materials.  What a wholesome and exciting trend: art as habitat.

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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Winter bloomers for Beneficial Insects


syrphid smallToday I took advantage of a break in the rainy weather and went out to pull shotweed.  The Sarcococca and white forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum) were perfuming the damp air.  Both shrubs had a barely perceptible cloud of tiny flies about their branches.  The flies, too, were enjoying the bit of sun, nectar and perhaps pollen.  Even in the winter there are insects out foraging, looking for that rare flower to feed upon.

The ‘Jelena’ witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) that I had planted a few years back in honor of our dear departed kitty Hazel is in full bloom.  A spider had laced a web amongst the bare twigs in hopes of getting a winter meal. Small gnats darted about as did one of the most common pollinators in my garden, the syrphid fly.  The syrphid is often taken for a bee due to it’s  gold and black patterned abdomen.  However, it’s large eyes and short, stubby antennae give it away as a fly.

The syrphid was drinking from the burgundy flowers of the witch hazel, pausing long enough for me to snap a photo.  It might have also visited the heath, hellebores or violets that are blooming elsewhere in the garden.  There isn’t much up yet, but every little bit counts for the pollinators in winter.

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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Lady Beetle: Queen of the Beneficial Insects

lady bug larvae on Clematis jackmanii

lady bug larvae on Clematis jackmanii

I have always been fascinated with insects and am always on the lookout for them.  Since I garden using least toxic methods, the balance of good and bad insects is key to pest control.  A healthy garden will have it’s share of plant eating insects so we all need allies in keeping those pest populations at a tolerable level.  My garden benefits from the presence of bats, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and of course, insects.

One of the most well known beneficial insects is the ladybug but there are many other interesting insects and spiders that help protect our vegetable, fruit and ornamental garden plants so that we can enjoy them.  I recently spied a ladybug larvae amongst the foliage of my Clematis vine.  How different they look from the adult beetle.  They are voracious eaters of other insects, especially aphids.

Beneficial Crab spider with its legs outstretched in typical fashion.

Beneficial Crab spider with its legs outstretched in typical fashion.

Since I have a mild problem with something perforating the leaves of the vine (not serious enough to do anything about it) I wondered if this little alligator looking dynamo is keeping the culprit in check.  Later that week I found a crab spider, also insectivorous, in the Clematis.  Crab spiders don’t spin webs, but wisely hang out in plants and flowers so as to ambush unsuspecting prey.  With friends like these, whatever is occasionally nibbling on the leaves is meeting its match.

Washington State University Extension has a new publication out this year called “Beneficial Insects, Spiders and Other Mini-Creatures in Your Garden: Who They Are and How to Get Them to Stay”.  The publication is number EM067E and is available to download as a free pdf.  Included are color photographs of lady beetle larvae and a variety of other fascinating and helpful garden visitors.  Visit WSU Publications to read this wonderful resource and learn how to recognize, protect and attract beneficial insects to your yard.

©Colleen Miko 2014


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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
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.

©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:
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: 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:

©Colleen Miko 2014

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