Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thank you for another enjoyable year!

Thank You
Though economic times are tougher than previous years for most of us, I am thankful to have had enough loyal clients and a steady amount of nature programs at Magnuson Park to keep me pretty busy throughout 2011. I want you to know that I appreciate each referral and job that has come my way, as I know my design, consulting, and education services are certainly not among the list of "life essentials". And again this year, each of you has made it very enjoyable to work with you and your gardens!

 Earlier this summer, I wrote about how much I was savoring tomato sandwiches from my garden (and I can still taste them in my imagination). Last week, I finished the late Lee Lipsenthal's just-published book entitled "Enjoy Every Sandwich". The title comes from an interview that Warren Zevon did on the Late Show with David Letterman after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Letterman asked Zevon if there was anything he understood now that he didn't before. Zevon replied, "Just how much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich." I am very fortunate to be in good health, and I was very inspired by this book to continue savoring each day and each experience that comes my way.

News from my garden
I am sure that the addition of an Arnold Promise Witch Hazel in my back garden will help me through the dark winter months with an explosion of "sunshine in January" fragrant yellow blossoms. The hummingbirds will be well-fed too. I heartily recommend this species, as well as several other Witch Hazels, for their fantastic winter blooms and spectacular fall leaf color.

The 2 Wax Myrtles in my back garden have an abundance of seed clusters this year, and have attracted a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers to spend many hours a day snacking away within the shelter of their canopy. The Dark-eyed Juncos have also been plentiful this fall, even so bold as to bathe in my little deck fountain!

The Barberry, Shore Pine,
Ninebark, and Beautyberry in my front garden are thankfully tall enough now to start screening the huge new fire station that was built nearby. Berry production was excellent there this year too, and yesterday I saw a hungry Robin gobbling up the first ripe Beautyberries, so I know they won't last long. When Beautyberry (Callicarpa) shrubs initially came into the nursery marketplace, the fact that their iridescent-purple berries persisted throughout winter was a main selling point. But that was only because birds hadn't yet recognized the berries as food, and no one wanted to be first to try them! (It can take 40+ years for birds to sample non-native seeds and fruits) Robins and Stellar's Jays discovered how good Beautyberries are a few years ago, and mine only last until January now. But the great news is now this non-native is a genuine bird-friendly plant!Speaking of fruit... after enjoying the tasty berries and stunning fall color of the 7 dwarf Blueberry shrubs that I added to my back garden this year, and the late crop of raspberries that kept producing until mid-November, I am going to figure out how to fit some more Strawberry plants into my tree and shrub bed groundcovers too. Having a snack walk makes doing garden chores so much more fun!

I also plan to get an early start on my spring P-Patch too, by adding a larger, permanent cloche for protecting seeds and starts that thrive in cool temperatures such as snap peas, carrots, and broccoli.
This year, I ended up replanting a lot of early crops because of how soggy the soil remained throughout spring. Next year I resolve that no matter what the weather, my spring seeds will not rot before they sprout!

Good News:
I am happy to report that the Magnuson Nature Programs have stayed intact for 2012, and in fact are actually going to expand a little more! Thanks to some creative brainstorming with community center staff, help from a vibrant new docent program and other volunteers, and a grant from King Conservation District for a new demonstration landscape project, we will start our nature programs early in the year too. Our kickoff events are a series of "Discovery Days", with fun, hands-on learning for the whole family during February and March. We have a great lineup of camps, classes, and special events for the rest of the year too. Find out all the details at

I just got word that the 2011 "Trees for Neighborhoods"
program I had blogged about earlier this year has given 1000 free, urban-lot appropriate, ornamental and/or fruit trees to residents all over Seattle, to green-up our communities and provide more food for our tables. What a great way to replace some of the tree canopy coverage that Seattle has lost over the past 40 years! And the additional good news is that it looks like this program has survived the budget process and will be continued in 2012.

What's on the horizon?I will be in town for the winter months (no return trip to West Africa for a year), so if you want my help to get an early start on your 2012 garden planning, I'll be glad to oblige.

Besides my work for Magnuson Community Center Nature Programs throughout 2012, I will occasionally be leading Seattle Audubon field trips and neighborhood bird walks at Magnuson Park. This volunteering is part of my payback to this organization for the 2 incredible semesters of Master Birder training I received this year. My brain is so full of new info but now the question is, how much of it I can pull out of my "database" when out in the field? Ha ha! In any case, I hope you will consider joining me on an Audubon bird adventure next year. You can check the whole list of upcoming birding opportunities at

I also received Master Pruner certification from Plant Amnesty this year, and will be doing some volunteer teaching for that organization at their bi-annual, hands-on pruning education events.

During the spring months
I will also be doing quite a bit of teaching for local municipalities, but I will still have time set aside for garden consultation, design, and pruning lessons. Do let me know in advance if you have a major project in mind - thanks!

Seasonal Gardening Tips:From Experts say that the single most important thing you can do to prevent next year's pests is to remove this year's fallen (or still attached) fruit and leaves. If left on the ground, these can become "safe havens" for pests to overwinter beneath your tree, just waiting to climb or fly back up in the spring and create problems for next year's crop. Rake it all up and put it in your yard waste (not your compost pile).

From the WA State Dept of Fish & Wildlife "Crossing Paths" newsletter: Clean your bird feeders regularly. Diseases are easily passed along at feeders through droppings and moldy seed. Use feeders that are covered or sheltered from the rain and snow, and types that don’t allow birds to stand where their droppings will fall into the seed. Frequently remove all the seed from under the feeder to prevent bacteria and mold from growing, which can sicken the birds and also attract mice and rats.

Another important part of their newsletter is a section on cat predation: "Cats are the most significant non-native animal species affecting the decline of bird populations, and are one of the most significant human-caused deaths of birds in the United States. Do not feed birds on the ground or on platform feeders if you have an outdoor house cat or if cats frequent your yard. House cats can also successfully hunt at raised bird feeders, so monitor your feeder and remove it or install a cat-proof barrier if you see cats around it. Bells on cats do not work for preventing cat kills of birds."

Read the full story on their website at, with more details about cleaning and managing your feeder and your bird food, the times of year when it's most beneficial to feed birds, etc.

Once again, thanks for your business in 2011, and hope to see you again soon!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Magnuson Community Center Needs Your Support

Reprinted below is the letter I wrote on Sept. 20th in support of Magnuson Community Center, after reading all the details of Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and Mayor Mike McGinn's proposal and ratings system for drastic cuts to Seattle Community Center 2012 budgets.

This photo (taken by Jr. Nature Explorer Program parent Kevin Boyd) shows children harvesting fresh produce for local food banks, during the Fall Harvest Celebration co-hosted by Magnuson Community Center and Magnuson Community Garden, on Oct 2nd, 2010

Dear Councilmember Bagshaw and Mayor McGinn,

I'm writing today with the hope that a concerned citizen can still make a difference in the 2012 Community Center budget proposal that you released last week. I would be very grateful if you can take a few minutes to read this letter.

I imagine that it was difficult to create the system to collect the data used in order to assign each community center a rating, which then determines their 2012 hours and staffing, and I appreciate the effort involved. However, in looking over the many documents I downloaded from the Parks Dept. website, I found what I consider some major flaws in the entire data collection and points system in regards to Magnuson Community Center, which is the one I treasure the most. In my opinion, Magnuson Community Center is unique among all others and deserves to be considered "in 3-D" - not just on paper- because of the following facts:
  • It is the only community center in the city that is inside one of the largest public parks in Seattle (at 350 acres, it is 2nd only to Discovery Park) and able to utilize the entire park for its programming, including a host of natural areas with exceptional diversity of wildlife habitat and a 4-acre Community Garden.
  • Since its beginnings in 2005, Magnuson Community Center staff seized this opportunity and have created nature programs that are comparable with what Seattle's higher-budget Environmental Learning Centers offer, and that are far more substantial than any other community center-based nature programs in the city.
  • Its partnership with Magnuson Community Garden has led to programs that demonstrate and teach hundreds of children and families about the value and fun of growing your own organic food, preparing healthy meals with fresh produce, donating extra produce to local food banks, and other sustainable gardening practices.
  • Its partnership with the Brettler Family Place permanent low-income housing within the park has led to a series of free programs specifically tailored for the children and youth from the 51 formerly homeless families who live there. No other community center in the city has this degree of access and opportunity to reach out with positive messages and programs to families such as these who live within a public park, and whose actions and use of the park have the opportunity to be an asset or a problem.
Magnuson is a young community center and and not one of the high-profile ones, so I would not be surprised if all the info above was previously unknown by you or your staff, or even the people on the Community Center Advisory Team. In the data-collection, points and rating system that was created to fit all 27 of Seattle's community centers, Magnuson Community Center received a "2b" rating, the lowest possible, which would result in a drastic cutback of open hours and staff time. Realistically-speaking, these cuts will undoubtedly mean in an end to many (if not all) of the unique programs above, as I simply can't envision a "skeleton-crew" of 4 half-time staff could possibly do much in the way of any special events or programs. I believe that the chart is inadequate for assessing a unique community center like Magnuson, and therefore its point total and resulting rating on the chart does not reflect its actual value as a city-wide resource and community asset.

Besides the information above, please consider the following:
  • Magnuson Community Center has a very small amount of actual building space to use in its programming, because the Seattle Musical Theater controls the Auditorium inside their building, and the Magnuson Park headquarters administers the use of all other buildings within the park. The staff of Magnuson Community Center has overcome this by using many other areas within the park for their programs and special events, including other buildings, the natural grass amphitheater, parking lots, and the natural areas mentioned above. Magnuson Community Center's special events and programs in these park areas are a huge part of its annual programs and draw families from all over the region. They are some of the largest, well-attended events of any community center in the region, and serve thousands of people from all over Seattle and other communities, not just from the NE part of the city. Many of these events simply could not be done anywhere else in the city, because of the space and facilities required. The data that was compiled to make this points rating chart doesn't appear to recognize or count this at all! Here are just a few of the Magnuson Community Center's fantastic FREE special events and family programs that I have attended: Friday Family Concerts and Outdoor Movie Nights in the Amphitheater, Celebrate Urban Nature event, Matinee Movies in the Auditorium, Historic Walking Tours, and the Fall Harvest Celebration. They also host many low-cost events such as Family Wetland Walks, Bike Mania, Family Fun Runs, Chinese New Year, Family Nature Explorers classes and events, Leprechaun Hunt, winter break "Showtime" concert, spring break "Carnival", and many more than I can list here.
  • By the numbers on the points/rating chart, I see that Magnuson Community Center received a zero in the scholarship column, even though it has been running FREE programs for the new Brettler Family Place permanent housing. None of these low-income, formerly homeless families can afford to pay for any type of programs, and so as soon as Brettler Place opened this past spring, Magnuson Community Center immediately reached out to the 51 resident families with multiple free programs for over 100 of their young children and teens, to help them grow into positive contributors to the community and good stewards of the park. These programs have been a big success with tangible results for the families, the youth, and the park. If the attached points chart had considered these free, customized Brettler Family Place programs as being equal to scholarships, Magnuson Community Center would have had one of the highest scholarship points totals in the city rather than a zero! Magnuson Community Center also reached out to Brettler family Place immediately upon its grand opening, to host a special "welcome to the park" event for them, something that no other parks entity did.
  • Last but not least, the Nature Programs offered by the Magnuson Community Center are an important part of the Magnuson Community Garden's annual activities and maintenance, and a drastic reduction of the community center's special events and programs would have a drastic effect on the Community Garden's sustainability, especially the Children's Garden. The children who attend Magnuson Community Center's Nature Explorers camps, Fresh-from-the-Garden classes, and School Field Trips, have helped maintain and enhance the Children's Garden from spring to fall each year since 2005. Volunteers from the Community Center's Nature Docent Program are a big reason why the Children's Garden Committee and Master Gardeners can host FREE garden activities during the Community Center's special events. As one of the volunteer Co-Chairs of the Children's Garden Committee, I know that if the Community Center's special events and programs have to be cut back drastically because of the "2b" rating, there is no doubt in my mind that the Children's Garden annual activities will also have to be cut back, and all the TLC that children in the Community Center's Nature Programs give to the garden during their camps and classes will be in jeopardy.

But more than just relating all these specific reasons, I have to tell you that as a 34-year resident of this great city who values our parks a great deal, and as a volunteer who has given my time and energy to parks and programs in all 5 regions of the city that are covered by this new community center ratings system, I think that the long-term effects of your 2012 budget decision on our community centers deserves more than just a total from the data and numbers that were gathered for your proposal.

Magnuson Park is very near and dear to my heart, as I have watched it be transformed over the past 30+ years from a barren peninsula to a verdant, life-filled park, and I been moved by the effort and community involvement in its growth. The creation of Magnuson Community Center in 2004 was a brilliant decision by the Parks Dept. and City of Seattle, and a vital ingredient in the park's transformation. It is my strong and firm belief that all the work done by Magnuson Community Center has tangible benefits for all citizens of Seattle and nearby communities who count on Magnuson Park to be a fun, safe, and enjoyable place for families and children to learn and grow. If Magnuson Community Center's "2b" rating stands and is therefore part of the final budget voted on by the Seattle City Council, the loss will be felt deeply, and across the city.

Please reconsider your ratings system decision, and restore Magnuson Community Center to at least a "2a" rating, which would give it the best chance to preserve the majority of its wonderful programs and special events listed above, and to continue to be a great asset for this great city.
Thanks for your time,
Emily Bishton

Monday, September 5, 2011

Late Summer Magic

Blue sky. The golden angle of the sun. And a warm tomato sandwich.

Late summer is a time like no other, whether outside watching the fuzzy little butterflies called "skippers" in the garden, or inside the kitchen with some fresh-picked tomatoes. Even if the livin' ain't easy, these kind of days make you want to rise up singin' anyway!

After waiting what seemed like forever to enjoy my first tomato sandwich of the summer, I am delighted at the bounty that is coming in now, as well as gastronomically giddy about the prospect of an unusually tomato-full September.

Another eagerly-anticipated delight is my little sweet corn "field of dreams". This was born from the fact that I wasn't able to finish planting my back garden island bed this spring. Rather than simply lay wood chip mulch over the empty spots, I decided to plant one of my favorite crops, and one that I can't grow at my Magnuson P-Patch plot because of the smart and savvy crows there. It tassled pretty short, but the ears are growing larger every day and I am filled with hope.

A New Landscape for Magnuson Community Center

You may remember hearing about the Magnuson Community Center Bird-friendly Landscape in one of my past posts. This 3000 square foot public garden is a project that I've been deeply involved in (pun intended) since 2007. The Bird-friendly Landscape contains plants and garden features that provide food, water, shelter, and nesting places for native birds, and which are appropriate for urban-size gardens. It is located just across the driveway from the Community Center, inside the historic district of Magnuson Park.

The new project is a Resource Conservation Landscape, which will completely transform the 3000 square feet of sloped beds surrounding the Community Center building. The Resource Conservation Landscape is designed to demonstrate how to control erosion on slopes by building healthy soil with organic matter, using natural materials such as downed logs and local rock to create terraced areas, and planting native trees and shrubs that have root systems with slope-holding ability. The entire landscape will also be very bird-friendly... and we hope that a few of the tree frogs in the Bird-friendly Landscape will hop on over too!

Building the Resource Conservation Landscape will involve collaboration between Magnuson grounds crew staff, Magnuson Community Center Advisory Council members and staff, and volunteers. If you know of a scout troop or campfire group, service learning students, or any other group that may be interested, please pass along my contact information- thanks. And come on by the community center anytime to see both landscapes!
Magnuson Community Center
7110 62nd Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98115

Don't Forget to Water Your Garden this Week
We've had almost no rain since July 1st, and the soil is now extremely dry. These last few weeks of very low humidity have been the tipping point for a lot of plants, and caused them to become drought-stressed. Significant, soaking rains could be a month away, and the coming week is predicted to have record high temperatures. Make sure to give your plants a nice, deep, cool drink of water sometime this week, preferably early in the morning.

Fall will be in the air soon, and with it the annual change of sun, sky, and color. The best time of year for planting and putting down strong roots. It's a season that I look forward to each year and love to experience. In the meantime, I'm gonna eat a lot of tomato sandwiches! And I hope that these late summer days will be full of joy and peace for you and your family.

  • National Wildlife Federation Certified Landscape Professional - creating a nationwide "green corridor" of backyard wildlife sanctuaries.

  • Co-Star partner in the Envirostars Program- increasing environmental stewardship in the Pacific NW

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Greetings on a Sunny Summer Day

It's been a long time coming, but always worth waiting for a nice stretch of blue-sky weather in this fantastic region. As I write this in my backyard, with the sun on my back and the sound of birdsong in the gentle breeze, the recent cloudy days seem eons away. To tell the truth, the time I spend outside each year in with Magnuson Nature Programs - in all kinds of weather- has gradually changed my perspective on what Mother Nature sends our way. Even the cool rainy days usually hold a few beams of sunshine or some fabulous cloud formations, and aren't as bad to be outside in as they look from inside your windows. I have learned a lot about this by watching the children I work with, so I invite you to go outside on our next rainy day to enjoy the weather, as well as on this sunny weekend! (Of course, for maximum pleasure make sure you have a good raincoat and comfortable rubber boots on, and then get as muddy as you want...!)

The Himawari Project
Are you growing sunflowers in your garden this year? If so, please consider donating the seeds from your flower heads to the Himawari Project. Himawari is the Japanese word for Sunflower, which have the amazing ability to absorb radioactive cesium from contaminated soil, thereby neutralizing its effects. The Himawari Project will send sunflower seeds grown in the Pacific Northwest to the farmers of Northern Japan. The seeds will be planted in their fields next year to help heal the nuclear contaminated lands. Besides absorbing the cesium, the mature sunflower plants can be used to make biodeisel fuels. The Himawari Project sends a powerful message of caring, hope, and beauty to our friends in Japan who have suffered so much this year. The Magnuson Jr. Nature Explorers Program is a proud participant, and we are growing a "Sunflower Forest" in the Children's Garden as part of our summer camps and special events.

New Wildlife-friendly Landscape Program
This summer, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) launched a pilot program to certify landscape professionals who are knowledgeable and experienced in the field of wildlife-friendly design. For many years, NWF has been a worldwide leader in teaching individuals and educational institutions about how to create wildlife-friendly landscapes in their own backyards, schoolyards, and public spaces. They were a big inspiration to me when I designed and built my own garden and had it certified in 1995 by NWF and the WA State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife as one of the first Backyard Wildlife Habitats in this region. Today, I am delighted to announce that I am one of only 3 people in Washington State who have already completed the study course and testing, and been designated as a NWF Certified Landscape Professional. I have always encouraged my clients, audiences, and students to consider certifying their garden as a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary, and being involved in this pilot program has me even more motivated to do so. NWF has set the goal of certifying 150,000 new habitats this year, and this professional certification program includes a two-fold approach to help fulfill that goal:
  1. Providing NWF members, other property owners, and educational institutions who want to create wildlife habitat with referrals to qualified professionals who can help them to successfully achieve this. In the Garden for Wildlife section of their website, NWF now has a "find a landscape professional" link which sends viewers to a new webpage with referrals to the certified professionals in their area.
  2. Providing support for qualified landscape professionals so that their existing and new clients can more easily certify their own gardens as Backyard or Schoolyard Wildlife Habitats. NWF has recently provided me with a wonderful array of colorful, easy-to-use instructional guides on everything from attracting butterflies to building nest boxes, and more. I will be glad to provide these to you electronically or in printed form, whichever you prefer. NWF has also provided me with a good supply of printed applications. If you are an existing client and want to certify your garden, I will be glad to help you fill out the form! The $20.00 application fee includes a 1-year NWF membership, which gives you additional benefits and helps support a very worthwhile non-profit organization.
The process and results of designing wildlife-friendly landscapes has been a constant inspiration for me through the past 15+ years, and I am sure this will continue to grow stronger. I will soon complete the design for an exciting new project: a Resource Conservation Demonstration Landscape on the slopes surrounding Magnuson Community Center. This project will illustrate and educate the public about beautiful ways to build healthy soil, control erosion, and improve water quality, as well as additional ways to provide wildlife habitat!

FREE Trees for Your Yard!

The Trees for Neighborhoods program is happy to offer free trees to Seattle residents again this year. You can request up to FOUR trees to plant in your yard (street planting strip is possible, but you must let the program manager know). There's a great selection to choose from (evergreen and deciduous, small and medium/large and one fruit tree option), with trees available for pick up starting in late October. In addition to your tree(s), you will receive a watering bag for each tree, training on proper planting and care, and a coupon for a free bag of Gro-Co compost.

Seattle currently has 23% tree cover and a goal to reach 30% tree cover - and gain the many benefits that go along with trees. But we can't reach that goal without the help and support of Seattle's residents! Apply for your free trees soon, the application will be open beginning August 8.

Summer Watering Tips:
Though we have had a cloudy July, keep in mind that the rainfall totals for the month are less than 1 inch! New plantings need approx. 1 inch per week, so if you haven't watered your garden much yet, it's time to check your soil moisture. Your best tool is your index finger, or a small hand shovel. Newly-planted trees, shrubs, and perennials need supplemental water if the soil is dry when you probe 2 inches below the soil surface. Established plants can handle the top 4 inches being dry before watering. The clouds can easily fool us all into letting our plants start to suffer from drought stress.

Water in the early morning in order to get the most from your time and money, and avoid inviting slugs in for a comfy nocturnal feast. The soil will have absorbed the water by the time evaporation loss arrives, plants will start off the day hydrated enough to handle the afternoon heat, and the dry soil surface won't be as easy for slugs to cross by nightfall.

Summer Fruit Tree Pruning and Health Care
August is a great time to prune fruit trees. They will soon be slowing down their new growth or stopping it altogether, and pruning doesn't produce as many new water sprouts and other rampant growth like it sometimes does earlier in the year.

According to City Fruit, the fungal disease called Scab is apt to be a larger-than-normal problem this year due to the wet spring. For that reason, it's especially important to remove all the fruit (edible and otherwise) from your trees during harvest, and to rake up all fallen fruit and fall leaves so that the spores don't overwinter on or below your tree and reinfect it next spring. Summer pruning also has the benefit of allowing more light and air into your tree canopy, and less of a "humidor" for fungal spores to reproduce in.

There seems to be a less-than-normal plum crop, probably due to wet weather during the pollination windows, which kept the bees and other pollinators from getting to the flowers before they fell. Like Plums, pears and apples may also be fewer for that reason, depending on the variety. Hope yours are the exception, and bearing very well!


NWF Certified Landscape Professional, member of the Washington Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) and the Environmental Education Association of Washington (EEAW)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Early Summer in the Garden

The last few weeks have finally brought some real warmth to our garden soils, and plants are responding. The 'Snowfire' Rose in my back garden finally opened its first blossom this week, and it was well worth the wait.

This is a wonderful time of year to spend an evening in your garden having dinner, visiting with friends, or (my favorite) just swinging in the hammock at twilight. Whether or not your garden chores or plans are complete, I suggest taking some time to enjoy all the things about it that do please you. My own garden chores are still a work in progress this summer, and I just have to remember to look beyond the bare spots to see a 15-year old clump of Day Lillies loaded with gorgeous flowers, as well as the occasional Hummingbird having a snack.

Still in the Running
If you are also spending time at your computer this month, please take a few moments to put in a free vote for Magnuson Community Garden as part of your routine. Your vote can help win the garden a $3000-4000 grant to build disabled-access garden beds in the P-Patch and install educational signage throughout the site. Only the top 5 vote-getters will receive a grant, and the MCG is currently less than 100 votes from #5. To cast a free vote, click on this icon then click on the photo that matches this one (top row, second from left). You can vote once each day from now until August 1st, and any amount of votes you can take time to make will give the garden a better chance to be among the top 5. Thanks much!

Tales from Magnuson Park
Are you still hearing and seeing baby birds this month? I have been amazed at how late some of our native songbirds are nesting. The cool spring caused insect populations to remain low, and many birds responded by waiting until their favorite food was plentiful. The cool temperatures also caused many of Magnuson Park's resident Pacific Chorus Frogs to delay their egg-laying, and there are tadpoles still swimming in the marsh ponds that in most years would be adult frogs by now. (Frog photo courtesy of

The adults are tiny creatures, but still croaking up a storm in the evening hours and making the twilight hour in the park a pretty special experience. On Friday July 15th and Friday August 19th, I will be hosting the monthly Nighttime Nature Walk in the wetlands from 8:30-9:30pm. Chances are good that we will see 2-4 different Swallow species finishing up their last meal of the day, many waterfowl, several of the 19 Dragonfly species that spend summers there including this Cardinal Meadowhawk I photographed recently, Little Brown and Big Brown bats, and perhaps a couple of Barn Owls or other raptors. The fee is only $2/person or $5/family, and binoculars and other supplies are provided. Contact Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026 to register and get directions to the starting point.

Another unusual opportunity offered by Magnuson Community Center is to bring your family to the park for an "urban campout" on August 5th-6th. The evening will feature marshmallow toasting and songs around the campfire at the swimming beach plus a nighttime bat walk, and if you're an early bird you can go on my early morning bird walk too!

Fun with Fruit
For those of you who are growing Apple or Pear trees, there is still time to protect your fruit from Apple Maggot Fly with "foot socks", but it's best to do it asap. You can order these effective and inexpensive barriers from the Seattle Tree Fruit Society or MacPherson's Leather, or visit a local nursery for pheromone traps that will attract Apple Maggot Fly and Codling Moth away from your fruit.

If your trees are fruiting like mad, you may want to attend one of these classes: Master Food Preserver Nancy Gohring will teach a class for City Fruit on basic water bath canning techniques on Saturday July 16 in north Seattle. If you're interested in learning how to make your fruit last through the winter, this is a good place to start. The class covers equipment, safety, ingredients, water-bath canning techniques, and canning recipes. (FYI: new and renewing City Fruit members receive a free class)

Nancy Gohring is also going to teach this class for free at City People's Garden Store on Saturday August 13th. The details are on on their summer class list.

For info on other fruit-related classes and events, check out the Seattle Tree Fruit Society calendar.

Hope you have a joy-full summer,

Member of the Washington Chapter of Association of Professional Landscape Designers
and the Environmental Education Association of Washington (EEAW)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May Flowers

Well, my friends, the month of May certainly has been another roller coaster of storms and sun, wind and warmth, and so on....with the good stretches of sunny weather making us all hungry for much, much more!

I'm looking forward to June for a variety of reasons,
no matter what the weather brings: the tree and shrub buds that stayed closed up tight extra long this spring are finally exploding with color and fragrance everywhere I go, my own boggy backyard is finally drying out enough to at least get started on a long-overdue island bed renovation, and my summer camps at Magnuson Park will be underway soon (visit for the details). All of these things lift my spirits .... along with an upcoming visit to Indiana to plant a grove of trees in memory of my father, who first taught me how to plant.

Despite spring's beauty unfolding like my little garden shed scene above, it's now also abundantly apparent just what winter's wrath hath wrought (say that 3 times fast) in my garden, and some of it ain't pretty: the mature and normally very hardy Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum) that sprawls across 20ft. of my front fence looks like a pile of dry sticks all along one side. It's no coincidence that this was the side most exposed to the NE late last November when we had that dramatic temperature drop and strong NE winds. I've noticed this same pattern of NE-exposure winter damage in gardens and parks across the region, and you may be seeing it in your own garden too. A harsh but valuable lesson in chosing plant locations, and in the value of installing wind-break plants or structures. Some of my plants are damaged beyond reviving and have now been removed, but thankfully some parts of my Star Jasmine are now showing just the tiniest bit of new growth. So I just have to wait patiently to see how much of it recovers, though I admit to also speaking encouraging words to it each time I walk past...

If you have empty spaces in your garden too, here's an idea:

Plant a Bat-friendly Garden!
Bats are one of the most helpful creatures on earth, literally consuming tons of mosquitoes each night all over the world, as well as pollinating the flowers of some of our favorite tropical food and drink such as mangos, cashews, bananas, guavas, figs, and agave (used for tequila). By attracting night-flying insects to your garden, you can help our Western Washington native bats who are out looking for a snack on a warm summer night! Here is a list of plants that attract night-flying moths and other insects that are a tasty treat for bats:
  • Sweet William (Dianthus)
  • Fireweed (a native wildflower)
  • Honeysuckle
  • Bee balm (Monarda)
  • Mock Orange (Philadelphus)
  • Salvia (Sage)
  • Silene
  • Phlox
  • Stock
  • Mints
  • Cornflower or Bachelor's Button
  • Four o’Clocks
Visit for other tips on protecting our native bat species, who are some of the most interesting animals you might see if you come out to your garden during the "night shift".

Speaking of bats.... you may want to attend the Nighttime Nature Walk I am hosting at Magnuson Park on Friday June 17th from 8:30-9:30pm. We'll be on the lookout for all the "night shift" residents of the park, including bats and dragonflies, as well as the Barn Owls and perhaps one of the shy coyotes, both of which are helping greatly to control the rodent population in the park. To register for this event, contact Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Other upcoming Events You May Want to Attend:Both of these are on Saturday, June 4th

  • "A Bird's Eye View", a FREE family-friendly garden talk featuring yours truly. From 12:30-1:30pm at Molbak's in Woodinville.

  • "NW Lawn & Garden Pesticide Summit" for all who are interested in a pesticide-free future for our children and pets. From 9:00am-2:30pm at University Unitarian Church, 6556 35th Ave. NE Seattle, WA 98115. Presented by the Coalition of Organic Landscape Professionals. Details and tickets via

We're in 4th place but only by a whisker... it only takes a minute to vote
Your free vote can help Magnuson Community Garden win a $3000-4000 grant to build disabled-access garden beds in the P-Patch and install educational signage throughout the site. Look for the icon second from the left in the top row, that looks like the photo below. Please take a minute to vote now, and if you are really inspired, you can vote once each day from now until July 31st!

Thanks for your support!

Member of the Washington Chapter of Association of Professional Landscape Designers
and the Environmental Education Association of Washington (EEAW)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Showers

Ah, a "typical" spring day in the Puget Sound: a little sprinkle, a little sun, then a downpour, sunbeams, and then start all over again. After 33 years in Seattle, I welcome these kind of days with open arms ... but I sincerely hope they they foretell an end to the dark-clouded deluges of recent weeks!

How is your garden doing so far this spring? The winter has definitely been hard on a lot of plants, and the cold temps that lingered on well into March have delayed the flowering of many of our harbingers of spring. Unless you live in one of the warm micro-climates close to Lake Washington or Puget Sound, most plants such as Evergreen Clematis, Forsythia, Red-flowering Currant, Tall Oregon Grape, Osmanthus, and many others that "typically" bloom by mid-March are just reaching their full bloom now, at least 2-3 weeks later than normal. But all are well worth the wait!

To Dig or Not to Dig

Our soils have stayed saturated later than normal from all the deluges this spring too. Though the sunbeams peeking out make it tempted to get busy with a shovel in your garden, you can damage your soil structure if you do a lot of digging when it's still super-saturated. A simple "squeeze test" can be a good cue to knowing if the time is right: Scoop a little soil in your hand (about 1/4 cup) and squeeze it in your palm until it sticks together. Then open your palm and poke the soil with your finger. If it stays stuck together like glue, don't do a lot of digging yet. If it crumbles apart when you poke it, dig away to your heart's content. No matter what, it's always a good idea to protect your soil from compaction while digging, by working from your garden paths and trying not to step into your beds. It's much easier to keep the existing air in the soil than to try to put it back in after it's been pushed out.

Rhododendron Pest Warning:

If you see anything that looks like this on your Evergreen Rhododendrons or Azaleas, then it IS time to get busy with your garden hose sprayer, or if it's bad enough, maybe busy with your shovel.....

There is a new insect pest in the Pacific Northwest called Azalea Lacebug. It is related to a longtime pest called Rhododendron Lacebug, but the Azalea Lacebug can do a lot more damage very quickly because they have several generations per year. The damage from one year can be enough to affect the whole plant. Unlike the plainer Rhododendron Lacebug, the Azalea Lacebug has smoky brown spots on it if you look at them with a good hand lens. They are really tiny, and look like specks of dirt on the underside of the leaves, right around the midrib.
Photo from the Clemson University Extension blog-

Here is some compiled info from the WSU HortSense website and their Lacebug factsheet::

Azalea lace bug (Stephanitis pyrioides) is a relatively new insect pest in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike rhododendron lace bug (S. rhododendri), azalea lace bug attacks both azaleas and rhododendrons and may cause significant damage on both. Both adults and nymphs feed on the underside of leaves. Symptoms of damage are stippling, bleaching, or a silvery or yellowish (chlorotic) appearance of the leaves. The underside of the leaf will appear dirty due to the presence of insects (eggs, nymphs, and adults) and brownish or tar-like fecal spots, particularly along the leaf veins. Heavily damaged leaves may drop from the plant. Adults are about 1/10 inch long with lacy, net-like, transparent wings. The azalea lace bug has smoky, brown markings on the wings, which distinguish it from the pale whitish-tan rhododendron lace bug. The young nymph is colorless to black and spiny depending on age. The first generation of nymphs emerges in spring after frost danger has passed. Several generations may occur in a year. Since these insects overwinter as eggs laid on the leaves, evergreen varieties are most susceptible. Plants in full sun or suffering from drought may suffer greater damage. Damaged leaves do not recover, so early detection is important.

Management Options: Avoid the use of broad-spectrum insecticides to preserve populations of beneficial predators which will help control lace bugs.

Planning Your Spring and Summer Vegetable Garden:

Racks of seeds and starts are everywhere you look in the stores these days, and when you sit down to plan out your garden, don't forget to plan for your crop rotations! Planting the same crop in the same place year after year will eventually cause soil disease problems that can break your heart. It's wise to rotate all your crops each year, but absolutely mandatory for plants in the tomato/pepper/potato family, the broccoli/kale/cauliflower family, and the onion/leek family. My upcoming Edible Landscaping talk at the Bellevue City Hall on May 10th (see Spring class schedule in my March 1st posting) will cover crop rotation basics, along with many other aspects of food gardening. Crop rotation is one of those things that takes a little time to get the hang of but then will become second nature, and a huge benefit to your continued crop success.

Seattle Tilth also recently posted a intro article on this topic, at

Please cast your votes for Magnuson Community Garden!
The Magnuson Community Garden is part of a grant contest being sponsored by Organic Gardening magazine and DeLoach organic winery. Web site viewers can vote for their favorites between March and July 2011. (One vote allowed per day) The top five garden entries will each receive a $3,000-4,000 grant. The Magnuson Community Garden's grant request will support a much needed expansion to our ADA accessible raised bed and add interpretive signs to improve visitor use and experience.

Our entry video icon is the above photo, located in the top row, second from the left. Click on the box below to cast your vote, or visit

Last, but not least:

Have a great April!

Best regards,


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ready to March into Spring!

This isn't really a photo of my garden from 2011, but it easily could have been, given what our year has been like so far..... personally, I am really ready to see more scenes like this one, taken in early March a few years ago!

So far this year, while visiting gardens and park areas around Seattle, I have been observing a lot of plant damage that resulted from the sudden drop in temperatures, strong NE winds, and heavy snow of last November. Some shrubs that are normally evergreen have now dropped most or all of their leaves, branches have died back on some Hebe, Euonymus, and Lavender species, and more. Sounds like the same song, umpteenth verse, from the last 3 winters, doesn't it. Well, here's my "refrain to remember" when you're tempted to start pruning like mad or rip things out: be patient and wait a little longer. Many plants that are looking hideous right now will leaf out again- either from their existing branches or from their crown- and by late spring it may be hard to tell that they were ever damaged. You may still need to prune some branch tips if new leaves only emerge down below them, but this will become easy to see within a few weeks when new buds start to swell and open.

If you have a lawn, make sure to remember that freezing weather can be hard on grass too. Doing a lot of walking around or rolling wheelbarrows on it this time of year can damage it by crushing or breaking the crowns of individual grass plants, and/or compacting the soggy soil beneath it. Both can cause dead spots to form in your lawn, and result in more spring weed seed invasion. So that's one more reason to put off heavy-duty garden tasks for a little longer!

If you have fruit trees however, I do suggest pruning them very soon. Below is some great advice and info from City Fruit:
TIPS FOR GARDENERS- MARCH: It isn't too late to prune your fruit trees, but do it soon--and be cautious. The wood you take off now will encourage the tree to produce more wood (and yes, more pruning down the road). Focus on branches that are dead, damaged, or diseased. This is the time of year that many nurseries have their bare root stock on sale, if you want to buy and plant new trees. Plus, now is a good time to start preparing to put out Orchard mason bee boxes to help with fruit tree pollination. Download City Fruit’s FREE fact sheets on "Pruning Fruit Trees", "Planting Fruit Trees", and "Pollination" at

City Fruit is also partnering with City People's Garden Store (in Madison Valley) to offer a one-time 15% off store coupon for new City Fruit members. (When you join, City Fruit will send you a coupon.) These two organizations are also co-sponsoring a series of free classes at City People's, which are all listed at City Fruit also offers classes at other venues. For more info, visit

If you plan on growing vegetables this spring, here are two helpful suggestions:
  1. Visit the IPMopedia website and click on the "Edible Garden Design" and "Backyard Farming" sections for all sorts of free tips, downloadable factsheets, and more. It's a wonderful resource for home gardeners, p-patchers, and professionals. I guarantee it will help you find food-growing success!
  2. Shop for organic vegetable starts, berry shrubs, and fruit trees at Seattle Tilth's “Early Start Edible Plant Sale” on Saturday March 19th from 10 am - noon, at Tilth's headquarters in Wallingford. For more info, visit
And speaking of Tilth, the link below will take you to a very good article on pruning grapes, which is usually best done in mid-late February.... but this year I do believe that it’s a wise procrastinator who has waited until early March….!

As many of you know, over the past few years I have been doing more and more speaking engagements and classes at plant nurseries, garden fairs, community centers, etc. My specialties for these are similar to my design work: wildlife-friendly and child-friendly gardens, edible landscaping, and natural management of pests, weeds, and diseases. Most of my presentations are free, and this year I am going to be in quite a few locations around the Puget Sound area, so chances are good that I'll be in your "neck of the woods" sometime soon. You can find my entire spring schedule, including programs for children and families, by clicking on the other March 1st posting in the right hand column of this blog.

Happy Spring to one and all!

Member of the Washington Chapter of Association of Professional Landscape Designers
and the Environmental Education Association of Washington (EEAW)

Spring 2011 Speaking Engagements and Classes

Coming Soon to a City, Garden Fair, Nursery, or Community Center Near You!

Saturday March 12th from 10am-12noon
"Bird Nest Bounty" class

Magnuson Community Center, inside Warren G. Magnuson Park.

For children ages 6-10, and parent participation is welcome.

Learn who, where, and how native songbirds build their nests each spring, and build your own beautiful cedar birdhouse so they can nest in your backyard! $15 per child, all supplies included.

Pre-registration required- contact the Community Center at 206-523-1774 or register online at
7110 62nd Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98115
For more details on Magnuson Nature Programs, visit

Saturday, March 19th from 9:30am-12noon

Gardening with Children: Creating Success and Sustainability

FREE workshop for adults at the Magnuson Children's Garden, sponsored by the Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods P-Patch Program.
Learn garden tips and techniques, fun and educational games and songs to do in the garden with children. Advance registration required. For more info or to RSVP, contact
SORRY- THIS EVENT FILLED UP IMMEDIATELY, but we hope to host another one later in the year.

Saturday, April 2nd from 10:00-11:30am
Edible Landscapes: Vegetable Gardens and So Much More
FREE adult event at the Woodinville Water District Headquarters, Bldg. A
17238 NE Woodinville-Duvall Rd.
Woodinville, WA 98072
Learn multiple ways of incorporating edibles into your existing landscape, or adding new edible features to your garden. This presentation will be followed by a Master Gardener Clinic in the District's Waterwise Demonstration Garden. For more info, visit


Saturday April 9th from 9:00-10:00am

FREE Family Wetland Walk
Take a guided tour of the Magnuson Wetlands, with hands-on exploration activities for the whole family. Pre-registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. Each month's walk has a different plant and animal theme. This month: "Wetland Wake-up"!
All walks begin at the South Wetlands Entrance (off 65th St.)

Saturday April 9th from 10:30am-2:00pm
2nd Annual "Celebrate Urban Nature"
FREE event for all ages at the Magnuson Community Center Auditorium and Gym
7110 62nd Ave NE
Seattle WA
Family concert, hands-on "Nature Explorers Laboratory", environmental booths, and more, plus a grand finale nature parade down the the Children's Garden to re-dedicate the Gray Whale Garden and its brand new mosaic eye! For more details on Magnuson Nature Programs, visit


Sunday April 10th from 1:00-2:00pm

FUN FOR FAMILIES: Bugs You Want to Hug
FREE in the Molbak's Garden and Home Store- Events Area
13625 NE 175th St.
Woodinville, WA 98072
Learn about butterflies, dragonflies, solider beetles, and other insects that help your garden come alive with activity, beauty and health. I'll share my tips on how to attract beneficial insects to your garden using easy-to-grow plants and organic products, and how to "bee safe" while playing outside. For more info, call 425-48305000 or visit
Also, look for my article "5 Favorites For Kids" in the Molbak's Spring Garden Guide, a huge wrap-around topper of the April 7th issue of the Seattle Times


Tuesday April 19th-Thursday April 21st from 9:30am-12;30pm (Spring Break Week)
"Nature Explorers Adventure Camp"

Magnuson Community Center, inside Warren G. Magnuson Park.

For children ages 6-8

Enjoy a different nature adventure each day, with hands-on explorations activities, science experiments, games, and much more! Pre-registration required- contact the Community Center at 206-523-1774 or register online at
7110 62nd Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98115
For more details on Magnuson Nature Programs, visit


Saturday April 30th from 10:00-11:00am
The Keys to Sustainability: Building Healthy Soil and Natural Yard Care
presentation at the Bothell Spring Garden Fair
UW Bothell / Cascadia Campus
18115 Campus Way NE, Bothell
WA 98011
This FREE, all-day, all-ages annual event is chock full of workshops, booths, and more. For the entire schedule, visit


Tuesday May 3rd from 7:00-9:00pm
Natural Pest, Weed, & Disease Control
at Bellevue City Hall
450 110th Avenue NE, Room 1E-108
Bellevue, WA 98009
Learn strategies for creating a healthy garden that is naturally resistant, steps to take if problems occur, non-toxic and least-toxic management techniques, and more. This adult presentation is part of the City of Bellevue's FREE Spring Natural Yard Care Classes, and is paired with a Waterwise Gardening presentation by Howard Stenn.
Pre-registration is required- email or call 425-452-6932. For directions, visit


Saturday May 7th from 1:00-2:00pm

New Kids’ Class: Mothers Day Hummingbird Container Gardens

For children ages 6 to 12 accompanied by a parent

at West Seattle Nursery

5275 California Ave SW

Seattle WA 98136

Fee: $30.00 includes materials

Just in time for Mother's Day! Kids will learn about humming birds, their purpose as pollinators and what plants they like. This is a hands-on class and kids will leave with a potted up container full of colorful hummingbird attracting plants-a great gift for Mom on Mother's Day. For more info, call the nursery at 206-935-9276


Tuesday May 10th from 7:00-9:00pm
Edible Landscapes: Vegetable Gardens and So Much More
at Bellevue City Hall
450 110th Avenue NE, Room 1E-108
Bellevue, WA 98009
Learn multiple ways of incorporating edibles into your existing landscape, or adding new edible features to your garden. This adult presentation is part of the City of Bellevue's FREE Spring Natural Yard Care Classes.
Pre-registration is required- email or call 425-452-6932. For directions, visit


Saturday May 14th from 10:00-11;00am
FREE Family Wetland Walk
Take a guided tour of the Magnuson Wetlands, with hands-on exploration activities for the whole family. Pre-registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. Each month's walk has a different plant and animal theme. This month: "Tadpoles & Nestlings"!
All walks begin at the South Wetlands Entrance (off 65th St.)
For more info on Magnuson Nature Programs, visit


Saturday June 4th, time TBD
FUN FOR FAMILIES: Winged Wonders
in the Molbak's Garden and Home Store- Events Area
13625 NE 175th St.
Woodinville, WA 98072
Learn the how, what, and why of plants that attract and feed Hummingbirds and Butterflies, and create your own "winged wonders" mini-garden!

Member of the Washington Chapter of Association of Professional Landscape Designers
and the Environmental Education Association of Washington (EEAW)