Sunday, August 17, 2014

Aug. 17 column

Can you believe it's the middle of August already? It's time for another of my columns in The Spokesman-Review: Ornamental grasses add winter interest. Today's topic was a request from one of my Master Gardener friends and colleagues: ornamental grasses that provide some interest in the landscape during the colder months of the year.

If you live in the Inland Northwest or any other northern climate, things can start to look a little bleak going into the winter months. By carefully selecting different perennials, shrubs and trees, you can add texture, movement and beauty to your garden during the fall and winter months.

In today's column, I highlight six different ornamental grasses that I feel are real winners. Hope you'll enjoy reading about them and perhaps be inspired to try one or two.

Thank you for the suggestion, Denise!

If you ever have an idea for a topic, just drop me an email at and I'll do my best to add it to my schedule.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Aug. 10 column

Mary Lee Gaston
 Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: 'Lasagna gardening' yields big harvest. Throughout the summer months, I enjoy meeting with local gardeners and writing profiles of them and their wonderful gardens.

Today's column is a profile of Mary Lee Gaston, who lives in northwest Spokane. She grows an amazing vegetable garden each year. Last year and this year, she's following the principles of "lasagna gardening," in which you layer organic amendments on top of the soil and grow your plants in that.
Mary Lee's garden!

She's using a mixture of pine needles, leaves, composted chicken manure and her own compost. She was telling me the results have been fabulous and after visiting her garden a couple of weeks ago, I would definitely agree!

If you are curious about lasagna gardening, I'd recommend reading the book by Patricia Lanza: "Lasagna Gardening." It's published by Rodale Books and costs about $17. You might also be able to locate it at the public library.

I hope you'll enjoy reading about Mary Lee.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

August 3 column

Here is a link to the feature story I wrote in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Gardening goes undercover. It's about extending the gardening season so you can grow salad greens and other veggie crops through the fall and winter.

I have been so excited to write about this topic ever since conducting my own little experiment last year. I had intended to write about this from my own perspective until I happened to drive through Peaceful Valley last winter and saw Greg King's amazing garden.

At that point, I realized that he's the expert and is the person I really should be writing about!

Before I forget, I took the above photo in King's garden back in May because I wanted you to see his hoops and how he has the plastic covers pulled up and out of the way. But once there is frost danger, and throughout the fall and winter, those covers are pulled down over his raised beds.

If you're interested in reading about my own experiences with growing a fall/winter garden, here are links to blog posts about it:

In a nutshell, I planted one raised bed with lettuce, spinach, scallion and carrot seeds about the 3rd week of August last year. My goal was to be able to harvest everything at least through the fall months. And as you can see by the headlines on each post, I was amazed to continue to be harvesting from that bed in April of this year! Incredible.

I didn't exactly know what I was doing; I just wanted to see what would happen. So it turns out it is doable after all!

I hope you'll enjoy today's article and that you'll consider giving it a try. I'd recommend preparing a bed as quickly as you can and getting some seeds started within the next couple of weeks. You want the plants to get a good start before the hard frosts start hitting the area. There's a list of cold-tolerant crops with the article.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me at or leave a comment on this post.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Growing artichokes in your garden

This is the 4th season I've grown artichokes in my veggie garden. I've written about this in the past, both on this blog and in my columns. It seems like folks are catching onto the fact that you can actually grow artichokes here in the Northwest, and in other short-season climates around the country.

The two varieties I've had the best success with are 'Green Globe' and 'Imperial Star'. The seeds are quite easy to find, both at local garden centers and online. It's a little more challenging to find artichoke seedlings at local nurseries, although I have seen them at Green's Greenhouse in Cheney and Secret Garden Greenhouse in Spokane Valley.

Obviously, it's too late in the season to grow your own artichokes but I wanted to give you some growing information so you'll be ready to hit the ground running next year! Before I get started, though, I wanted to clarify that in short-season climates like ours, you have to grow artichokes as an annual. That means planting them in the spring, letting them grow and produce during the summer, and then letting them die once the hard frosts hit. Folks who live in milder climates get to grow them as perennials (lucky ducks).

I start my plants from seed indoors, usually around the first of March. Once the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, I transplant them into larger containers. Since I am lucky enough to have a small, unheated greenhouse, I move the seedlings out there and keep the pots covered with a layer of floating row cover for extra frost protection.

I feed the seedlings with a weak solution of fish fertilizer about every 2 weeks, to help them grow strong so they'll be ready to move out to the garden by mid-May. When the time comes to transplant them, I'll place hoops over their bed and cover the plants with a layer of floating row cover for another couple of weeks. It's amazing how this simple step will get them off to such a good start.

At that point, I remove the cover and let them do their thing. It seems like I always forget how the plants take a few weeks to really hit their stride but that's what they do.

I just took the above photo yesterday afternoon and, as you can see, this particular plant has 2 young artichokes developing on it. Hooray! Those are the first 2 of the season for us so that gives you an idea of when they'll start producing.

We've got 6 plants in a raised bed and will probably end up with at least 20 full-sized artichokes from them. And let me tell you, they're delicious! We either boil them in water or quickly cook them in the microwave, and then dip the leaves -- and eventually the "choke" -- into either mayonnaise or melted butter. Mm-mmm!

So if you like artichokes, and you'd like to surprise your family members and neighbors by growing something a little out of the ordinary, give artichokes a try in your 2015 garden. I think you'll be delighted with the results.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27 column

Boy, this month is really going by quickly, don't you think? It's time for another of my columns and this one is about the last garden tour of the summer: Tour shows off South Hill oases.

The Associated Garden Clubs of Spokane are hosting their 28th annual Yard & Garden Tour next Sun., Aug. 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be seven gardens featured on the tour and the great news is that they're all on the South Hill and quite close to one another, so that makes it easy to get from one to the next.

Tickets cost $10; children under 12 get in free. You can purchase tickets ahead of time at either of the Northwest Seed & Pet locations or Judy's Enchanted Garden, which is on NW Blvd. Or you can get tickets at any of the gardens on the tour:

  • 6107 S. Madelia St.
  • 5922 S. Helena St.
  • 6106 S. Madelia St.
  • 1706 E. 62nd Ct.
  • 6310 S. Pittsburgh St.
  • 6212 S. Pittsburgh St.
  • 1614 E. South Ridge Dr.

In my column, I featured the beautiful garden of Norma Gavin, which is part of the tour. The photos on this post were taken during my visit there.

Proceeds from the tour will go toward beautification and gardening projects in the Spokane area, so it's for a good cause in our community. I hope you can make it to the tour!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

And the winner is...

OK, so maybe it's a bit early in the season to be announcing my favorite annual of the year but I'm going to do it anyway!

I'd have to say that 'Persian Carpet' mix Zinnias wins the contest hands down. The attached photos are just some of the color combinations that came in this seed mix and they are absolutely a delight.

The plants were really easy to grow and have a mounding growth habit. Most plants are about a foot tall but the flowers rise above that. The blossoms range from 1 1/2" to 2 1/2" in diameter and last a really long time. I like that in a flowering plant because I don't always have time to deadhead the spent flowers. Be sure to click on each photo if you'd like to view a larger, more detailed image.

You can find seeds for these zinnias very easily. I bought mine at Johnny's Select Seeds but a quick web search shows that you can also find them at Park Seed, Botanical Interest, Seeds of Change and Territorial Seeds. You'll find links to each of these online companies on my "Links" page. If you live in the Spokane area, you should be able to locate them at Northwest Seed & Pet as well.

So tell me what you think of this annual -- do you like what you see? Write a comment on this post or drop me an email at

Monday, July 21, 2014

Final cherry report

I thought you might be interested to hear how things went in our quest to grow cherries organically this year:

  • We have four producing cherry trees at this time. Two sweet cherries ('Bing' and 'Rainier') and two pie cherries ('English Morello' and 'Montmorency'). We also have a young 'Montmorency' that isn't producing yet.
  • In the spring, my husband Bill hung some sticky yellow "indicator" traps in the trees. They are a way to know if cherry fruit flies are in the area. When cherries start turning from green to yellow, that's when they start causing trouble.
  • As soon as he started seeing the fruit flies, he began spraying Bull's-Eye Bioinsecticide, which we purchased from Garden's Alive. It contains spinosad (a soil bacteria that is harmless to humans) as the active ingredient and is considered organic. It's really important to follow the label directions and not overuse it in the orchard because you don't want to run the risk of having the fruit fly adults and larvae develop a resistance to it.
  • Bill has since decided that he probably waited a little too long to start spraying because he thinks the fruit flies were active before he started noticing them in the traps. He's making some notes to remind himself of this for next year. Even so, we had a minimal amount of insect damage.
  • We also purchased some bird scare ribbon, which I've written about recently (Keeping the birds out of the cherries and Update on cherry trees) and discovered that it worked quite well in scaring away magpies and starlings. We did get the occasional robin but otherwise, it worked amazingly well. We definitely got a larger harvest this year from all of the trees. Every time we finished picking cherries from a tree, we immediately removed the bird scare ribbon from it because you don't want to run the risk of having the birds get used to it. That's very important!
  • Unfortunately, about a week ago, we had quite the hail storm which caused damage to a few of the 'English Morello' and to most of the 'Montmorency' cherries. Even so, our harvest from the former was our best ever. Those are what's peeking out of those canning jars in the photo.  ;o)
  • We discovered that the 'Rainier' variety tends to do really well, which I believe is because of the pale fruit color. We think the color confuses the fruit flies into thinking they're not ripe enough to lay eggs in. It also confuses the birds somewhat for the same reason: the cherries just don't look ripe to them.
  • We didn't experience any other problems with the cherry trees this year, such as diseases. We did notice one interesting thing, though: the spinosad apparently wiped out the ants that had been going up into the tree as there was a small amount of aphids on some of the branch tips. So that was a nice side benefit.
  • We've frozen some of the sweet and pie cherries and canned 14 quarts of pie cherries for future cherry pies and other desserts. Looks like there will be plenty for at least one cherry pie per month!
Looking forward to seeing how next year's cherry crop does!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

July 20 column

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Knowing culprit keeps tomato problems in check. Since gardeners love to grow tomatoes, and since certain issues can crop up with them, I thought it would be helpful to talk about this today.

Hopefully your tomatoes are growing great, though, and you'll never need this information!

If you're wondering how mine are doing, I'm happy to report that we've been picking 'Sungold' cherry tomatoes and a few of the 'San Marzano' paste tomatoes. Boy, you just can't beat the taste of a homegrown tomato, can you?

This photo shows you how the beds we put in last year are doing. From left to right: corn, tomatoes and winter squash. In the foreground on the lower right is a corner of the pumpkin and melon bed. It's so exciting to see everything growing so well.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

July 13 column

TFM president Dave Lennstrom enjoys the view at Mirror Pond.
Here's a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Fundraiser benefits Mirror Pond. It's all about next Sunday's (July 20) "Picnic for the Pond," which the Friends of Manito is hosting.

This will be a fundraiser for the improvement and restoration of Mirror Pond in Manito Park. The event includes a catered dinner, live music, a silent auction, and a no-host beer and wine garden run by No-Li Brewhouse. Everything takes place in and around the lower Manito Park/Rotary picnic shelter.

Tickets cost $30 for adults and $15 for kids aged 6 to 16. Here's the important thing: the deadline for purchasing tickets is Tues., July 15. That's because TFM needs a head count so they will have enough food on hand.

You can purchase tickets through the TFM website, at the Friends of Manito office (4 W. 21st Ave.,) or you can call (509) 456-8038.

I hope you can go to the picnic. It should make for a really pleasant evening and it's for a great cause, which you'll read about in my column.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Protecting corn plants from wind

My veggie garden is in an area that can occasionally get pretty windy. Most of the crops do just fine but corn is particularly susceptible to the wind.

I have to say that there is nothing quite so depressing as having a really great-looking patch of corn one day, then have it all snapped off at ground level and lying in a heap the next. This has happened a few times in my garden over the years, and the last time it happened several years ago, I vowed not to let it happen again.

So here's what I do each year:

Once the corn plants are about 14-18" tall, I pound in stakes at each of the corners of my corn bed. Then I grab a ball of twine and run a line of it around the perimeter of the bed at a height of about 12 inches. After the plants grow a bit more, I repeat the process -- but this time, about a foot or so higher than the previous time. I do this one more time, once the plants are about 4 feet tall.

Corn plants have very short, stubby roots that don't hang on so well in a big windstorm. That's why I surround the bed with twine so that when the wind starts to blow, the plants have a little something to lean on so they don't blow all the way over. And it works great.

It just takes a few minutes and is well worth the effort. By the way, I took the above photo this morning and as you can see, the corn is nearly 5 feet tall already! I have high hopes for a good corn harvest this summer. I'll keep you posted...