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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Plum Crazy: The Late Spring Garden

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' is a delightful perennial with upright spires to 3'

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’ is a delightful perennial with upright spires to 3′

The woodland garden is quieting down; trout lilies, hellebores and epimedium are now setting seed.  In the meantime, the rest of the garden has just about caught up as the last of the leaves unfurl. Wisteria is always late, the leaves showing up at bloom break.

The garden is plum crazy right now.  The seemingly unnatural color of bulbs is  a memory and the pale and tender foliage of most plants make the violet hues stand out all the more.

The deep and delightful purple foliage of Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus ‘Diabolo’) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii cultivars) may recede into the lushness of the summer landscape, but for now they appear novel in concept.  Purple foliage! The deep, moody leaves are wine, purple or red, depending on the direction of the light that falls and the foil of neighboring plants.

Clematis jackmanii blooms on the deck railing

Clematis jackmanii blooms on the deck railing

This year my summer blooming clematis jackmanii is quite early and has caught up with the floral show of clematis montana ‘alba’, which started in April.  I missed the late winter window to prune away last year’s dead, crispy leaves before the huge flowering, velvety purple clematis bloomed on new growth.  I ignore the tangle of brown yesteryear because the mess of 5″ wide flowers have a colorful hedgerow in the background.  A tall ornamental plum and several large, arching Rosa glauca are the backdrop that echo the plum symphony.

Rosa glauca is a garden shape-shifter whose dusky stems and leaves alternate from grey, muted blue, red and purple.  I would be lying if I said that I had planned the effect; it simply happened when I added as much purple to the landscape as I could find.

Persicaria 'Red Dragon' is a stellar perennial best protected with applications of deer repellent

Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ is a stellar perennial best protected with applications of deer repellent

The purple-blues of the garden such as columbines (Aquilegia alpina) and camassia have been surpassed by mauve–chives, Penstemon ovatus, and meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium).  The bees are foraging. It’s these plums that shine alongside the more reddish foliage of heucheras, Persicaria ‘red dragon’ and Japanese maples. Rosa glauca will add yet another hit of this rosy hue in a few weeks when it’s tiny flowers open in clusters.

The mornings are still cool and moisture hangs in the air. It won’t be long, however, before the summer sunshine of yellows, oranges and reds arrives to overpower this moody, purple haze.  Plum foliaged plants compliment May flowers now but also contrast the hot colors of summer and fall making it the most adaptable and seamless foliage color to add to the overall landscape.

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’ (Pearlbush)–Plant Fix

Showy pearlbush

Showy pearlbush

Bright as a beacon on this gray, drizzly day, my pearlbush is in full bloom.  Tons of pure white, cup-shaped flowers stand out in the shrub border.  The common name comes from the perfectly rounded buds that resemble strings of pearls on short, terminal racemes.  Finally this slow growing shrub that I started from a 1 gallon pot about 10 years ago has reached a size where I can cut flowers for a showy bouquet and still leave a magnificent, full garden display.

bloom smallThe rest of the year it doesn’t look like much.  Dull green, oblong leaves are sparely placed on gray branches so the overall appearance is open and plain.  I wouldn’t call the form graceful; it bends toward the sun in a floppy manner.  This rose family denizen, however, is a bold, powerful sight in early spring and its carefree manner more than makes up for it’s ho-hum summer appearance.

exochorda blooms smallExochorda ‘The Bride’ is a compact shrub said to top out at 6′ high and almost twice as wide.  We’ll see: mine is about 3′ now.  The size makes it usable in a small garden.  It is thriving in full sun with minimal summer water, and the soil it’s in is rocky and certainly not rich.  Other than now, when it’s a blooming knockout, I seldom notice it in the shrub border, but that’s just fine.  I give it a shaping and create a lovely arrangement with the prunings in early to mid-April depending on it’s bloomtime.

exochorda bouquet smallA squat vase is perfect for the short flowering racemes, which I have mixed with camellia leaves and shapely branches of contorted filbert.  In keeping with the nuptial theme, the basket cradling the vase next to my front entry is stuffed with Spanish moss and champagne corks.

‘The Bride’  is a French cultivar introduced in the early 1900s.  I can attest for it’s reliable nature and stellar blooms–a marriage of attributes that has made it a botanical classic.

©Colleen Miko, 2015

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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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