Saturday, December 5, 2015

Keeping my Eyes Open

It's the time of year again when the days are short and the skies are mostly gray, but the older I get, the more that seems to make the occasional blue sky days seem even more golden.  And despite today's rain, the sweet fragrance of winter-blooming Vibernum 'Pink Dawn' still wafts through the raindrops to my screened porch, and even the leaf-covered soil in the surrounding beds smells good to me.  However, I am well aware that my perspective is colored by being fortunate to have a warm and cozy house that makes winter's chill easy to escape.  With so many in our region struggling to keep any kind of roof over their head, I never want to take my luck for granted or be intolerant of a different view of things.

It's so easy for us humans to assume that we are seeing the whole picture at first glance, but time and again I am reminded to keep looking deeper. For instance, the other day when it was sunny and bright, I had the great fortune to look out the front window when a small flock of female Cedar Waxwings settled in for lunch in my Beautyberry bush (Callicarpa).  At first I was a little sad for them, as over the past week many Chickadees, Song Sparrows, Wrens, and other Waxwings had already been feasting, and it didn't look there was much left.  That feeling was short-lived though, as I watched this determined trio hopping to and fro, balancing perfectly to stretch out towards the iridescent purple clusters on the tiniest branch tips that no one else had been able to reach.  They continued meticulously until they had picked off each and every berry that was left, then flew to the top of the bush, fluffed up their feathers, and preened in the sun.  These beautiful little birds were just going about their daily lives, but to me it was another good lesson on keeping my eyes open, no matter what things look like at first glance.   To have "lunch with the Waxwings" was quite a gift, and one that I will treasure in my mind's eye for a long time too.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

CSI for Bees- FREE classes throughout Seattle this summer and fall!

If you'd like to learn more about how to identify, monitor, and help protect our native bees in your own yard, there is a good series of free classes happening now through a partnership between Seattle Parks, the NW Pollinator Initiative, Seattle Tilth, and myself!

Here is the official press release:

Seattle Parks and Recreation is pleased to announce a FREE citizen science course on pollinator and native bee identification. This course, taught by Elias Bloom, a WSU entomologist, and Emily Bishton, a local gardening and nature educator, will emphasize native bee monitoring, but will also include information on flies, wasps, true bugs, beetles, spiders, and butterflies. The goal of this course is to create a group of citizen scientists who will watch bees in their gardens and report to our online forum. You will receive hands-on tools during the course to identify pollinators, record, measure and track your pollinator observations over time!
Children age 8 and older are welcome to join their parents in the class too! You can sign up online at the Seattle Parks SPARC website or by contacting the individual community center by phone.  

Note from Emily: I am co-teaching all of the classes except for the Seattle-Tilth sponsored classes on June 13th and Sept 26th.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

PNW Native Plants: Beautiful and Sustainable!

The longer I garden here in the Puget Sound (37 years and how time flies), the more I have come to know and love plants that are native to this region.   So many of them have features that are beautiful in all 4 seasons of the year, thrive in multiple types of soil and sun conditions, and require little pruning to keep their structure pleasing and well-suited for a typical-size garden. Here are a few of my favorites:

Red-twig Dogwood thrives in so many different garden conditions, from sunny and dry to moist and partly-shaded. Here it is in my parking strip in early fall, as its leaves begin to turn brilliant colors while it's still in flower and fruit!

Evergreen Huckleberry also thrives in sun or part-shade, with a reddish tinge to it new leaves and winter foliage, plus tasty berries for you and the birds every fall!
Sword Fern is such an under-rated plant!  It thrives in multiple garden conditions too, and when it matures into its  4ft x 4ft glory, it gives an almost-tropical touch to your garden.  Fringe Cups (Tellima grandiflora) is one of our many native perennials that Hummingbirds love to visit!
Low Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa) is an evergreen that blooms each March with beautiful fragrant yellow spires, then produces berries for the birds.  Once its roots are established it will even grow in dry shade!
Wild Ginger (Asarum rubrum) thrives in moist shade (which I have a lot of in my garden), and its semi-evergreen foliage and deep red flowers smell just like tropical ginger
Want to learn more?  
Join me at my next class for the UW Botanic Garden: "Native Splendor in the Garden"

Class Description:
Many of our native plants have very ornamental branch structures, flowers, leaves, and berries, making them ideal for incorporating into an established landscape or using as the foundation for a new garden. Native plants are already adapted to our wet winter/dry summer climate and acidic soils, and do not require much fertilizer or supplemental water once established. Adding native plants to your landscape is a great way to increase its year-round beauty without increasing the amount of time and resources you use to maintain it.

This class will provide you with tips for determining which native plants will fit best into your landscape, which plants will also attract birds and beneficial insects to provide natural pest control in your garden, and planting methods for bare-root or containerized natives.

The class will include an indoor presentation with live plants and samples, plus an outdoor tour of mature native plants at the Center for Urban Horticulture!

When: Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 6:30 – 8pm
Where: UW Botanic Gardens - Center for Urban Horticulture, Douglas Classroom (3501 NE 41st St, Seattle, WA 98105)
Contact Information: 206.685.8033 or
Cost: $20.00

Register Online, or by phone (206-685-8033)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy New Year and Thanks for a Great 2014!

Thanks to you, 2014 was a wonderful year for me, filled with a cornucopia of activities: teaching hundreds of adults about sustainable gardening throughout the Puget Sound region, teaching hundreds of children and adults about gardening and nature at Magnuson Park and other nearby locations, peppered with a healthy "dash" of in-person garden consultation and design work! 
I am so grateful this year to have had new teaching opportunities come my way, most notably the Sand Point Elementary school garden program and the Seattle Public Library.  I am also very grateful for continued work from the municipalities and other entities that have been the mainstay of my public education for adults and children for the last several years!
Roses are red, violets are blue,

I love my work, thanks to you!
When I began this journey back in 1995 after many years in the world of remodeling and rental property consulting (and a lifetime of home gardening), little did I know that it would lead to where I am today... or how much fun the journey would be!

In light of that, I want to personally acknowledge and thank all the people who have been a big part of my journey so far:
  • Teacher Terese Metz, for inviting me to volunteer as a garden teacher in her classroom at Dunlap Elementary School back in 1995 (which turned into a 9-year collaboration), for mentoring and encouraging me, and continuing to be a great role model and dear friend ever since;
  • Former WSU/King Co. Extension Master Gardener Program staff Mary Robson, Joan Helbacka, and Anza Muenchow for inviting me to begin writing about my experiences in gardening with children and to teach adult gardening education classes in the late 1990's, and current MG Coordinator Elaine Anderson for her support in encouraging each year's incoming interns to volunteer with Magnuson Nature Programs;
  • Landscape designer Cindy Hazard and horticulturist Christina Pfeiffer, for their tremendous design ideas and leadership of Magnuson Children's Garden, which inspired me to jump in with both feet to help sustain this beautiful garden (aka my home-away-from-home) for the past 10+ years;
  • Retired Edmonds Community College instructors Walt Bubelis and Polly Hankin, for teaching and mentoring me on so many aspects of horticulture and garden design;
  • Seattle Public Utilities resource conservation staff Carl Woestwin (retired) and Liz Fikejs, former Seattle Tilth staff Colleen Quinn and Andrea Cummins, Cascadia Consulting's Gwen Vernon, and Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods' Kenya Fredie, for giving me opportunities and referrals that began and/or nurtured my teaching and writing work for Puget Sound municipalities and other entities that has continued to grow each year;
  • 70th and Sand Point Child Care Center director Mary Jo Dostal, for the opportunity and privilege of working with their wonderful preschool teachers and students for the past 8 years at Magnuson Park;
  • Magnuson Community Center coordinator Karla Withrow, for the opportunity and creative freedom to grow Magnuson Nature Programs from a 2-week summer day camp for preschoolers into a mainstay of year-round public education and stewardship programs with dozens of camps, classes, nature walks and more, plus two demonstration gardens. Her 10+ years of steadfast mentoring, support, and patience has made a tremendous impact of all the success.
  • And last but certainly not least, to all the wonderful clients who've welcomed me into their gardens and their lives since 2002, and to the thousands of children, adults, and families who have given me so many delightful and meaningful teaching experiences for the past 20 years. I have learned so much because of you all, and none of the experiences listed above would have been possible without you too!

And I really can't end this note without expressing my gratitude to my late parents, who taught me how to grow food and flowers, plant little saplings and watch them grow into trees, and gave me the freedom to play as much as I wanted in the backyard, creeks, and farm fields, and in the sun, rain, and mud... Without them, this journey truly would not have begun!