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Elisabeth C. Miller Botanic Garden and Library

Cardoons at the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanic Garden

When I joined 70 other garden bloggers in Seattle this past summer, one of the first places we visited was the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanic Garden which is a part of the University of Washington. There were familiar plants, and not so familiar plants like these cardoons, which are related to the artichoke and make for some sophisticated eating.

Green roof

Like many botanic gardens there are trial beds and educational projects like this green roof. It looks like it is on the ground, but it is actually the roof of a wing of the building that is entered at ground level while I was standing on  a deck to take this photo.

The most special part of this botanic garden for me was the Elisabeth C. Miller Library. Once a librarian myself I had a special appreciation.

Elisabeth C. Miller Library librarians

This library is unique I think, in that it is available to the general public. Not only can people come in and use the collection of 15,000+ books in the library, many are available for circulation. There are books on every botanical subject from roses to ethnobotany, from container gardening to plant hunters, from annuals to urban forestry, from composting to flower arranging and just about any other subject you can think of.

You can even check their catalog online, recommend books you’d like to see in the collection, and browse through hundreds of current nursery and plant catalogs that are included in  the collection.

But this wonderful library with its helpful staff also offers very practical assistance through the Plant Answer Line,  and lists local plant sales and garden tours.

Of course, the collection is slanted toward plants of the Northwest Pacific, but I tell you I could spend weeks in this library happily exploring many subjects that would be of interest to me – even coming from the Northeast Atlantic.

Weeding and Compost

A 40 foot Herb Bed lies in front of our house where lilies and roses vie for space with rue, parsley, basil, variegated sage and thalictrum at  the west end of the building

past the Welcoming Platform where you can see yarrow, golden marjoram, sage, tarragon, rosemary, Ashfield black stem mint and chives

to the end of the Bed where there is more basil, horseradish, lemon balm and dill that was knocked down by the rain that fell briefly last night. An Herb Bed in August is not a lovely thing because herbs are not neat plants. I have seen photographs of beautifully pruned herbs in simple and symmetrical beds or in complex knotted designs, but I have never seen one in the flesh. I am willing to believe such herb gardens exist, but for the cook and gardener who is only interested in using herbs the herb garden is much more apt to be unruly, but productive and useful.

Today, after at least three weeks without weeding (Life interferred in the most delightful ways) I set to. I filled a wheelbarrow with all manner of weeds, some of them embarrasingly large,  but I am not done yet.  When I have a large amount of biomass which includes roots and seedheads I grit my teeth as I toss the load in the compost pile. I fear that those weeds are not totally dead and will infect the pile. This doesn’t happen, but I get nervous every time.

Birrell Compost Bin

When I visited the Birrell garden in Seattle and saw this compost bin I was instantly struck with compost bin lust. Anyone can make a big practical wooden bin with two segments – and fill both of them, BUT no bin I have ever seen has this unique removal system. Note the bottom two boards with hinges and locks.  When it is time to remove the compost you just lift the locks and open the bottom two boards, making it easy to remove finished compost. What an idea!

How I Spent My Vacation

Blodel Reserve in the rain. Perfect.

Spring and summer, planting and growing seasons, are busy times for the gardener especially when you add in Tour Season. For me Tour Season was especially exciting (and exhausting) this year because our garden was on the Franklin Land Trust Farm and Garden Tour, and then the following week I was attending the Hawley Artisan and Garden Tour, and the Greenfield Garden Club Tour, both on the same day – while many people were able to add on Colrain’s 250th anniversary which included tours of 16 farms and gardens because theirs was a two day tour. All these farms and gardens were a celebration of our New England landscape

Now I am just back from four days of touring gardens in Seattle and environs. With a group of 73 other garden writers and bloggers I visited elegant hillside mansions with manicured lawns and gardens, suburban gardens that mixed healthy vegetables and fruits with roses and perennials, gardens designed to withstand drought, an Olmsted designed landscape, botanic gardens, and the famed Bloedel Reserve with its serene Japanese Garden, and the fantastic Moss Garden.

Moss Garden

I cannot tell you about every garden in this one column, but you will hear about many of the gardens over the next few months.

Bloedel Reserve

The Bloedel Reserve was the last garden we visited. We left the city and took the ferry across a misty Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. We disembarked and drove across the island to this famed Reserve, arriving just as the skies opened. As I strolled along the paths of this beautiful green public space lined with gracefully drooping branches of the western red cedar (Thuja plicata), and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga Menziesii) the rain poured down. After days of brilliant sun, the soft sound of the cool rain and the shiny green sheen of Japanese maples and rhododendrons finally put me into the mythic Pacific Northwest landscape as I had imagined it.

It is the trees of the Reserve that I may remember best. We have beautiful trees in Massachusetts, but the scale is not the same. Many Washington trees rise a hundred feet or more into the air, while others like the Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) or the Katsura  (Cercidiphyllum japanonicum) spread broadly. All have a majestic grace.

Looking at the Reserve’s trees and plants gives one a chance to think about the history of the state of Washington. The native Douglas fir, is the dominant tree in the northwest environmental system, and because it is so easily logged and turned into timber it has been a vital part of the state’s economy as well.

Long before there were loggers the northwest coast Native Americans used the western red cedar in many ways, from carving their sacred totem poles, to the practical necessities of their life, including the building of dugout canoes, and weaving a waterproof cloth made from the fibrous bark.

Then came the Japanese. The Reserve has honored their participation in the state’s history by adding Hinoki cypress (Chamecyparis obtusa) in all its many sizes from tall to tiny dwarf.

Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) come in an equal number of sizes, and colors, especially when autumn arrives, painting the trees in shades of red, orange and yellow. There is also the fernleaf maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitfolium’) with its deeply cut leaves that is transformed in the fall by brilliant colors that are never the same from year to year, varying from red to yellow, depending on the weather.

Golden black locust in Japanese Garden

A century old Katsura tree stands near the entry of the Japanese garden, its branches touching the ground with the weight of the rain, while the golden black locust inside the entry, just beyond the raked stone garden, glowed as if the sun were flaming.

Of course the Reserve, like every public garden, has special delights for each season from the beauty of the rhododendrons and Japanese flowering cherries in the spring to the rich color of the Japanese maples in the fall, but it is the magic of green that was on display for me.

'Cloud pruned' pine

The Japanese Garden with its sculptural ‘cloud pruned’ pines, the dark pond waters edged with green moss, and ferns, the reflecting pool surrounded by green lawn and green hedges, mosses in shades of green glowing in the green shade of the Moss Garden, all create an atmosphere of serenity.

The joy of traveling is in experiencing a different climate (I really did love that rain) and different landscapes. There was enjoyment in pondering the mystery of seeing peonies and daylilies blooming at the same time, and delight in learning about new plants, strange or beautiful, even if I know I cannot grow them myself.

Seattle Farmers Market

Last Saturday our group attended a Seattle farmer’s market where the stalls were filled with vegetables, peas and cauliflowers, organic meats, smoked salmon, flowers, and tree ripe apricots and peaches, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. There were crates and crates of cherries. I bought a bag of big nearly black Atika cherries from a farmer who chastised our group of garden writers. “You want to write about our farms and crops? What are you doing here? This is Seattle. You have to go east to find farms. I grow 500 crops – in the east!”

I guess I will have to return to Washington someday. And go east.

Between the Rows  July   , 2011


David’s Perry’s Photography Lesson

David Perry, Photographer

One of the stellar events of the Garden Blogger’s Seattle Fling was the workshop with David Perry, photographer extraordinaire.  We only had an hour of instruction, but I went right out to use the P setting on my little Canon Power Shot A590.  I call it my Point and Hope because it is so difficult to use in the sun – but it was raining at the Bloedel Reserve and I was ready to actually move the dial from Auto and adjust my exposure. Radical.

Once I put the dial on P I pressed the little button next to the LCD screen that has a tiny + slash minus. I press that button and I see a dotted line on the screen shot going from -2 to +2 with 0 in the middle which is the default Auto exposure. David says he thinks that, generally speaking, automatic settings are too bright. He recommended hitting another little button to get the exposure down to -2/3.

Willow - Automatic exposure

This is the willow tree and pond right near the Visitor’s Center where David gave his workshop. I was wasting no time. I used the automatic exposure first.

Willow with - 2/3 exposure

I can definitely see an improvement. And I am no longer afraid of the P setting. I might even try a – 1/3 or – 1 or even -2. With all intermediate settings. Experimentation is the way to go. Bracketing – trying out different settings for the same shot to see which is better.  There are times when a + 1/3 or + 2/3 or +1 or +2 might be called for. But not in the rain at the Bloedel.

He gave our group another couple of tips. He recommended a flexible plastic cutting board to use as a light diffuser when the sun is too bright, or even a very mild  spotlight. I found my cutting board at the Lamson and Goondow outlet. Three bucks!  He also said that while he, and other professional photographers have expensive tripods, many of us might consider going to Home Depot or some such and buying a tripod that construction people use for laser leveling. Less than twenty bucks. I am ready to invest!

Chihuly’s Bridge

For more Wordlessness on Wednesday – or any day – click here.

Inspiration From Seattle – One

Shelagh Tucker with tomatoes and sweet peas

Compared to Heath, Seattle has a mild climate, and yet gardeners there share some of our problems. Generally, it does not get hot in Seattle. Gardeners go to great lengths pampering their tomatoes in an attempt to achieve juicy ripeness. Shelagh Tucker has a small greenhouse in her sloping back garden, but she also grows her tomatoes in a raised bed sort of hot house to provide the heat tomatoes require. Behind her, in another raised bed are beautifully trained flowering sweet peas.


I was surprised to see so much lavender growing in Seattle gardens, great healthy clumps. Lavender does not need the heat that tomatoes do, and enjoy the wet mild winters.

Potted succulent

Because of all the seasonal rain I could see why containers with all manner of succulents are popular.


I love santolina but have never been able to overwinter this pretty herb with its yellow button flowers. It is used widely in arid climates, but Shelagh has used gravel extensively in her garden to help retain heat, and provide sharp drainage for her plants.

Shelagh took a leaf from British gardener Beth Chatto’s book on gravel gardening to design a stunning garden featuring gravel and stone to capture heat, provide paths, and provide drainage for plants like thyme in front of her house.

Stone Mosaic

Stone and gravel become art in this beautiful mosaic.

Waterlily pool

While I am familiar with the many small in-ground pools that gardeners install for plants or fish, I was particularly fond on this raised pool which was so elegant.

'Heritage' rose

Of course, I always pay special attention to the roses in a garden.  David Austin’s ‘Heritage’ is one of my favorites even though I cannot keep one alive very long myself.

Shelagh Tucker’s garden was the first garden we visited on our tour and it set the tone for the unique and personal gardens that followed.

Lily Season

Daylily Bank

I have not done with posts about my great trip to Seattle to tour amazing gardens with 70+ garden writers  and bloggers, but I am so happy to be home and to see the glories of lily season.  Our Daylily Bank is now in full bloom and it got a lot of attention when the Heath Gourmet Club was here on Saturday night to enjoy a delicieux dinner a la Francais.

Black Beauty lilies

The Black Beauty lilies have been blooming in the Herb Bed right in front of the house for several years, along with a crimson bee balm. A great, but unintentional combo.

Last year I got a little bloom from Lilium henryi (gold) and the White Henry lilies, but this year they are putting on quite a show. There is another white lily with a deep red throat in this group. I don’t know what it is, but I think it was a bonus that came along with a big order I sent Old House Gardens that does have wonderful bulbs.

Seattle skyline

If you do want to see some of  the wonderful sights of Seattle log on to my friend Layanee de Merchant’s post.

Japanese Garden at the Bloedel Reserve

Or see what Francis at Fairegarden had to say about other damp scenes at the Bloedel Reserve.

Home Again Jiggety Jig

Bloedel Reserve in the rain

I’ve said farewell to all the gardens of the Seattle area including the beautiful Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.

And I’ve said farewell to Tacoma

Chihuly bridge

with its amazing Chihuly Bridge.

I’ve stored up memories of my visit with my dear friend Kathryn Galbraith, children’s author extraordinare and her lovely garden.

Kylee Baumie and Kathryn Galbraith

I’ve bid farewell to all the garden bloggers like Kylee of Our Little Acre and my dear friend Kathryn.

Seatac Airport

Now I’m at the  very busy Seatac airport where I got my very first pat-down. Note to all artificial hip travellers: Show your official card BEFORE you go through the security machines! A very nice and informative young woman did the honors. I hope that is the most exciting event of the day. Except for being back in the arms of my beloved.

Seen in Seattle

As we 74 garden bloggers have toured Seattle we have visited private gardens, public gardens, and semi-public gardens to admire and learn about plants and Seattle’s history. Here is a mock orange at the Dunn Gardens.

All kinds of lavender everywhere.

Bicyclists on their own path.

Fabulous fruits at the Farmer’s Market. Cherries, peaches, all kinds of berries – vegetables, too.

Magnificent trees, towering.

Potted plants everywhere, in the gardens and on the street.

Fountains in the Mall where kids can play.

AND roses, and more roses. This in one variety growing in the enormous beds arranged around a beautiful big fountain at the University of Washington.

You will see lots more about Seattle’s gardens, and the clever ideas people have to add interest and convenience to their gardens. Stay tuned.

View From The Bus

Mount Ranier

We were crossing water on the floating bridge when suddenly a gasp of excitement ran through our bus – The Mountain was out!  We caught views of  The Mountain at the end of the day as well when we were walking through the Seattle Art Museum Sculpture Garden. I’m told The Mountain is only out seven days a year, but I hope that is at least a slight local hyperbole.  When I visited here eleven years ago my  cousin Karen told me there are always more traffic accidents on Seattle’s highways when The Mountain is out. I can believe it. It is hard to take your eyes away.