Gardening Through Art Workshops

https___cdn.evbuc.com_images_89163727_399006853547_1_originalFriend, local artist, teacher and family farmer Elise Watness Maupin of Joyful Plant is hosting a new set of Gardening Through Art workshops starting next month.  She’s inviting folks of all experience levels to participate in monthly classes for discovery of the botanical kingdom through artistic observation. Attendees will examine plant anatomy to notice simplified shapes, lines, values, colors, and functions of the plant world to learn from nature.

The first class is “Spring Bulbs and Charcoal Drawings”, and all will be held in Belfair, WA–sign up for individual classes or the series. To learn more about the class topics, dates, materials and registration information, click here to link to her website: Joyful Plant Events 

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Garden Journal Feedback

Gratitude topic divider

An Image from my Journal

THANK YOU to all of you who came out for my presentation last week “Rooted in Observation: The Garden Journal.”  I was thrilled to see so many friendly faces and meet new friends while sharing a topic that I truly enjoy.  If you attended my presentation, I would love to hear about your own journal topics and techniques.  I get inspiration from other gardeners’ skills and talents, and the same is true from others’ garden journals.  Use the comment box below if you’d like to share journal ideas.  Or if you have thoughts about what you took away from, or suggestions for improving my seminar; I’d love to hear from you.   Thanks again!

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Start Garden Journaling in 2020

photo for blog post small

The first seed catalog arrived in my mail this week. It’s the time of year when garden plans are swirling around my head, fueled by weather and holiday-driven indoor days. With my journal by my easy chair, I’ve been penning dreams and goals for 2020, and documenting the harvest of a few carrots, chard and beet greens from my 2019 planting efforts. Garden journaling in January seems natural in the cycle of things–apropos that I’ll be teaching a seminar open to the public on the topic in a few weeks.  Join me for:

Rooted in Observation: The Garden Journal
Keeping a garden journal is a wonderful way to document and enjoy one’s garden. Colleen Miko will share why she keeps a journal and what she’s learned from 25 years of chronicling her Port Orchard garden. Whether you’re experienced in journaling, or would like to know how to start, you’ll learn different styles and techniques for creating a personalized garden tracking system. There are many simple options to choose that allow you to be more organized, and productive no matter what kind of gardening you love. You might even find, as Colleen does, that the very act of following the garden through a journal, brings great pleasure.

Thursday, January 16, 2020 from 1-3pm
at the Norm Dicks Government Center first floor classroom
345 6th Street, Bremerton, WA 98337

The class is the first of the 2020 Master Gardener Foundation of Kitsap County Spring Seminar Series. Tickets are $5 at the door, no RSVP needed. Proceeds support the WSU Kitsap Master Gardener Program of Kitsap County. For more information on the seminar series, visit:

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Edible Garden Evolution: Raised beds

beds almost filled small

Raised beds built on sloped ground have taller sides on the downslope.  Existing hose connection is between the two center beds.  A ramp was used to fill the beds with a wheelbarrow.


My original garden was row-style, which afforded a lot of flexibility. No borders allowed me to expand on all sides as I pulled blackberries and amended soil gradually over the years.  I broadcast cover crop seed liberally over the whole area and turned it in easily while weeds were efficient to hoe in the open soil.  Large and sprawling plants like winter squashes could have free reign and it also made it possible to rotate my plantings without a great deal of forethought.

When brainstorming a new garden, however, I knew that raised beds were the way to go.  We decided to go first class since this garden will be the space we’ll use for vegetables until we can’t garden any longer.  Here are some of the reasons I chose to build raised beds:

  • Require less bending & therefore are physically easier to tend for longer in our lives
  • The soil in raised beds is protected from the compaction of foot traffic
  • Paths surrounding are easier to maintain when the soil you’re planting in doesn’t wash out into the paths
  • You fill the beds with soil of the ideal texture rather than being stuck working with what nature deposited in your garden (no glacial till, rocks or sticky clay) and therefore you can have a balance of good drainage & moisture retention
  • Soil in raised beds warms up faster–plants are active sooner and produce later.
  • If you line your raised beds with metal landscape mesh, you can exclude pests that tunnel such as moles and voles (plentiful in my garden)
  • Hoops that serve as framework to attach cloches (protective devices) are easy to anchor to the sides of raised beds.

The big question was what material to use for the raised beds.  What gardener doesn’t have bookshelves of “garden porn” or binders of inspirational landscape plans incised from magazines?  I perused hundreds of unique, gorgeous, artistic and more or less functional vegetable gardens, not to mention falling into the rabbit hole of internet images.

When we were still planning on constructing the beds ourselves, the plan was to use stacking stone.  I don’t have carpentry skills but can set stone walls.  The material lends itself to our sloped ground.  Gayle at Dancing Raven Design has beds built this way and I admire how they look and function.

Once we decided to have them built for us, the materials were no longer limited by my own capacity to work with them.  New options appeared.  The final decision was composite lumber (think of the deck boards made of recycled plastic and wood fiber).  Why composite? Unlike stacking stone, which could shift or slide when turning cover crops, or otherwise working the beds, lumber won’t move.  I wanted the end result to last and not have to be rebuilt.

raised bed small

4 x 8 bed lined with landscape mesh on the bottom.  Vertical sides supported with inside stakes to prevent composite lumber from bowing.  Plumbing straps from side to side to add an extra element of support while filling with soil.

Clearly pressure treated lumber was out because of the potential for harmful chemicals to leach out into the soil, and regular lumber, even cedar would rot in a matter of years.  Amazing that the decision that took months to make can be summed up in one paragraph.


For more information on the pros and cons of raised beds, read WSU Fact Sheet FS075E by Craig Cogger “Raised Beds: Deciding if they Benefit your Vegetable Garden” at

Click to access FS075E.pdf

©Colleen Miko, 2016

Posted in Vegetable Gardening | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Evergreen Violet–Native Plant Fix

viola sempervirens small

Viola sempervirens (evergreen violet)

We are blessed with many native violets in the Pacific Northwest–blue, white and yellow flowered.  My hands down favorite is the sweet, little yellow violet with evergreen foliage.  When it comes into bloom it’s a charming sight. So diminutive and plain-clothed in it’s greenery, you don’t notice even a sizable colony until it breaks into flower at the end of March, early April.  All year round its there, evading the eye and the weed whip.  The tiny but leathery foliage hugs the ground tightly on this roadside in Port Orchard, WA. But look at it now: pure, unadulterated spring cheer!

Don’t forget that April 24-30th, 2016 is Native Plant Appreciation Week–go out an appreciate a plant near you!

©Colleen Miko, 2016.


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Edible Garden Evolution

Edible Garden Evolution: “Recognition: If we wait to do this entirely on our own, it will never happen”


BEFORE: This sunny lawn area will be the new vegetable garden (old vegetable garden in background is now mostly shaded).  Several established shrubs would need to be removed, as well as all of the turf and rock edged planter bed.  The valve for the lawn sprinklers would need to be converted to drip.  April 2015

Summer 2014 I hired my good friend and edible garden consultant, Gayle Larson (Dancing Raven Design) for a few hours to evaluate my design thoughts for the new vegetable garden. My landscape design experience is primarily with ornamentals.  Vegetables are not my strongest suit and I thought this would be the shot in the arm I needed to get me out of the “design phase”.  She and I laughed about how the DIY mindset can lead to paralysis.  Do you, too, struggle with hiring someone if the project is one you are capable of doing yourself?  Even if you lack the time needed to accomplish it?  Darn it!  It’s the principle, not just the cost savings.

In spring 2015, my husband and I started the project again with all the earnest that results from reading seed catalogs all winter. I circled weekend days off and guarded them jealously. “GARDEN” was penned in bold letters to fill the entire calendar square.  We built most of our landscaping ourselves over the years–from pergolas to flagstone walkways to a propane firepit–we could do this if we simply blocked out the time.

Well, yes, we could. Slowly.  After the entire spring and summer of available days off, this is what we accomplished: removed a concrete and stone planter we built in 2002 and what plants remained in it; rented a sod cutter, removed and hauled 1700 square feet of lawn elsewhere on our property; collected enough cardboard to thickly overlap and mulch the bare dirt before any grew back; dug tenacious perennial lawn weeds as they rebounded from the root; made 4 trips with our trailer to load and unload free arborist chips wheel barrow by wheelbarrow to mulch the entire area; placed the stones from the old planter along the intersection of lawn and new bed; dug and transplanted or gave away 8 large ornamental shrubs from the area.


MID-SUMMER 2015: Lawn has been removed with sod cutter and hauled away; concrete and stone planter has been dug out; cardboard and arborist chip mulching is underway.  Four roses, two Japanese barberries, two Olearia shrubs and a mass of gladiolas still need to be dug.

It’s not liked we slacked off, yet our biggest accomplishment was a shift in attitude. Fall came and no veggies had been planted or harvested. If we continued to work on the project ourselves, it would take 5 years to complete. We could afford to have help and we were now willing to pay for it.  The next thing I knew, it was the rainy season and New Year’s Eve.

To be continued….

©Colleen Miko. 2016

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Edible Garden Evolution

1998 veggie garden

The layout of my vegetable garden year 2 (courtesy of my 1998 garden journal).

Edible Garden Evolution: The “Design Phase”

A new garden does not happen over night; I can testify to this. Books and videos make it seem so; all you need is grid paper, a shovel, and a little elbow grease, right?  Well, sort of.  You also need free time, some money and decisiveness.

Thinking that others might be interested in the process of revamping my edible garden, I will share the project here. Starting at the beginning and working forward in successive posts, I’ll explain where I’m going and how I’m getting there.  My edible garden evolution, if you will.

When I began gardening at my home I had plenty of time to install the landscape. In 1997 I broke ground on an area for vegetables that was sunny, relatively flat and carved from poorly established lawn.  After grading by hand and installing a water hydrant, next came yanking deep-rooted blackberry and salmonberry. Double digging the sandy soil followed: compost added, rocks subtracted.  The physical side of gardening has always been a pleasure for me, not to mention the end-of-day results.

The drawing at the top of this post is from my 1998 garden journal, and shows what I planted in the second year, which is fun to look back on now.  The work paid off with successful harvests and for 6 years I grew annual summer crops primarily, with a few perennials: asparagus (started from seed), rhubarb, and strawberries.   Then we moved out of state for a total of 5 moves over the course of 7 years.

As you can imagine, while the ornamental garden we left behind continued to thrive, the vegetable garden was on hold with a rare mulching of compost if we got to it while home on a brief visit. By the time we moved back permanently in 2010, the asparagus bed was root-bound and unproductive, the rhubarb slug infested and the sparse strawberries clipped down by deer.  The most profound and deleterious change, however, was surrounding trees and shrubs had grown exponentially to render the growing area both smaller and shadier.

Faced with having to remove lawn to claim a sunnier location, build deer fencing, coupled with taking a new full time job, the project remained in what I refer to as “the design phase” for 4 years. By this I mean it was endlessly on my mind, but no palpable progress was made.  You’ve all been there.  You may be in this position with parts of your garden right now.

To be continued….

©Colleen Miko, 2016


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Great Golden Digger Wasp–Beneficial Insect

Sphex ichneumoneus (Great Golden Digger Wasp)

Sphex ichneumoneus (Great Golden Digger Wasp)

Its hard not to notice an inch long wasp, let alone 5 or 6 flitting from flower to flower around you in the garden. Last week while weeding I was mesmerized by the imposing wasps clambering over the allium flower spheres. Each made its way around, poking its head into the open flowers, twitching its wings and hanging upside down when needed. I was curious about the identity and activities of these creatures who took no heed to my investigation.  I took some videos, moving my phone and later my camera within inches of them. At times one would jet to another flower if I cast a shadow across it, but they were completely docile.

A little research in my entomology books and online revealed my busy garden friends to be Great Golden Digger Wasps (Sphex ichneumoneus) from the family of Sphecid wasps. With orange legs and wings, and an abdomen that is half orange tipped in black, the wasp is mostly sleek, except for the flaxen hairs on it’s black head and thorax. The antennae are black. Like most solitary wasps, meaning those that nest individually, they are not aggressive (no hive to protect) and are seen only in summer when the adults eat nectar, which explains their attraction to the flowers. They are found from southern Canada throughout the US.

Great Golden Digger Wasp eating nectar from an allium flower

Great Golden Digger Wasp eating nectar from an allium flower

As the name suggests, the Great Golden Digger female excavates holes in sunny, open and sandy areas where she creates underground burrows where her larvae develop.  She forages for grasshoppers and crickets to feed her young, a great service to us gardeners.

Great Golden Digger wasps are predatory insects that paralyze what they catch with a toxic sting before dragging it into its tunnels.   After provisioning the burrows with the still living but motionless prey, the wasp will lay a single egg on the hapless grasshopper and cover the burrow.  There are some amazing videos of Sphecid wasps actually moving pebbles to deftly cover the entrance holes.

The eggs hatch in about 3 days and immediately begin voraciously feeding on the still paralyzed insect. Yikes! The following year, the larvae will have developed into an adult wasp and the lifecycle begins again when it flies from the tunnel to mate. Adults only live a couple months, during which time we might be lucky enough to see them and marvel at their interesting characteristics and appreciate their contribution to disposing of garden pests in the family of Orthoptera, which includes grasshoppers and katydids.

After I saw them in my own garden, others around our area have mentioned noticing them, too. Apparently they can sting if manhandled, so don’t catch them–just let them do their thing, bizarre though it may be.  Watching them dance around a flower as they dine on nectar is a lazy summer diversion and a cool reminder of the diversity of nature.

One of the most interesting sites I found about the Great Golden Digger Wasp is a site put together by Galveston County Master Gardeners at

In addition, there are some fascinating videos online of this engaging wasp as it creates its burrows.  In my opinion, insects are some of the planet’s most amazing and entertaining creatures, especially when you start learning about the habits of the predatory insects!

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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Christmas in July–Garden Art

Glass ornaments hang from our entry pergola

Glass ornaments hang from our entry pergola

They may look like Christmas in July to some, but I love the multi-colored globes that hang from the big pergola over our entry path.  Looking into the garden from inside the front door or kitchen window, I watch them sway in the wind and drip rain.  When backlit by the western sun in the late afternoon they glow brightly.

In spring when the wisteria vine that engulfs the pergola blooms, that’s when most visitors notice the rainbow of ornaments that otherwise hide ten feet above our heads in the foliage.  Either that or when the thug of a vine sleeps in winter and the colorful bubbles plainly dangle.


Wisteria blooming with a suncatcher from Dog and Pup glass

The spheres range in size from 3″ to 6.5″ with one heart that I found some years ago at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show on Valentine’s Day.  They have held up very well exposed to the elements year round, some for 5 years now.

While I have purchased them all over, my favorite place to get them is from Dog and  Pup glass in Coeur d’Alene Idaho.  I discovered them when in Spokane on business.  A huge display in a store window caught my eye and I ogled over the globes that were shining and tempting me like candy.  I couldn’t believe how reasonably priced they were compared to others I had seen.  Not only that, Dog and Pup makes their “suncatchers”, as they call them, up to 6.5″ in diameter, which is rare.  They have a booth at various festivals throughout the Northwest, but also sell online, which is how I have purchased mine.  You can order by the color and size and if they don’t have them readymade, John and Darlene Johnson will create them custom for you.  Check them out at

Globes stand out when wisteria is dormant

Globes stand out when wisteria is dormant & add unexpected color when there is none

Slowly my collection is growing and it will take a slew of them to have the impact I want. The pergola is 10′ high, 8′ wide and covers a 12′ run of flagstone pathway.  Now that I have ten globes it’s starting to look bold and festive like I envisioned at the start.  I wonder how many I will have when I decide it’s “right”?

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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Natural Car Air Freshener–Viva Verde

Rosemary & English Lavender on my dash

Rosemary & English Lavender on my dash

This week I was gifted an inspiring idea.  I went to visit friends Eugene and Deborah’s productive garden to talk about their rain water cistern for a magazine article.  As I pulled up, Eugene handed me a green bundle and said, “Here, throw this in your car; it will smell good.”  I placed the fragrant posy onto my dashboard.  It is a lush sprig of rosemary and 4 English lavender flowers tied with a snip of sisal twine.  When I returned to the car after our visit, indeed my car smelled like heaven.

Driving into work, catching glimpses of the green and purple reflected in my windshield, I was inspired to think of other natural car air fresheners.  What a great idea!  Why hadn’t I thought of this simple delight before?  Anyone with good scents knows that the cardboard trees sold to hang off the rearview mirror are cloying at best.  I have so many great plants in my garden I can use instead.

Certain herbs came to mind right away.  June’s bumper crop of spearmint has meant many fresh “Nojito” drinks (non-alcoholic Mojito).  The crisp mint fragrance in the car would be refreshing.  Other culinary herbs of course would work, but my Greek oregano would be a bit much on a hot day!  It could make me hungry, or more likely put me off souvlaki, my favorite food.  Perhaps the universal palette cleanser of parsley would be more suitable in the auto.

I can imagine the aromatherapy benefits of plants and flowers in the car.  Will the lavender make me a calmer in traffic?  Could lemon balm or grapefruit peel help to wake me on my morning commute?  Cedar might be a good one to try when I don’t want flowery or culinary smells so I will try some of the other conifers to see how I like them. Would pine put me in the holiday spirit come fall?  On the rare occasions when I take my kitty to the vet, could catmint (Nepeta sp.) ease the ride for the both of us?

More daydreaming has me wondering about other botanical car air fresheners.  I love how the leaves of Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) trees smell like cotton candy when they drop to the ground in the fall.  I wonder if a bouquet of green ones drying in the car would impart that same sweet aroma of warm sugar?  And I wish I was still growing Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua), an annual grown for it’s yummy smelling leaves.  Speaking of Artemisias, I know I will pass on curry, or anything that might make my car smell like I left takeout on the passenger floor too long.  That calls to mind the unfortunate time in high school when my friend Cheri and I left a falafel in the car during a warm Southern California autumn while shopping for prom dresses.  I can laugh about it now.

I would love to hear reader’s ideas for plants for natural car air fresheners.  I am confident that there are endless combinations to try and lots of cool ways to display them, too, from woven mats of twigs to lavender wands.  Then there are you lucky VW Bug drivers whose dashboards come with a built in budvase.  Chime in!

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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