I was reminded of this recently while struggling to deal with basil starts in my garden. I love basil but it’s a bear to grow successfully here in Seattle. Our cool maritime climate makes it hard to grow the heat loving Mediterranean herb. I have tried plastic tunnel cloches over the years, and they work to some degree on the larger plants purchased at the nurseries. But this year, I am growing nearly 100% of my plants from seeds, which adds to the challenge with basil. (Slugs love the little plants, and it takes some heat to get the plants sufficiently ramped up and rolling for the season.)
However, while mulling my options last night, I popped into a thrift store to see if I could rustle up some kind of cloche, or protective cover that I could put over my basil seedlings. I trolled the storage box section and found nothing. I considered those large plastic iced tea containers for a hot minute, but the spout proved problematic and frankly, unattractive. In the glass container section, where they have the assorted glass bowls and Pyrex containers, eureka hit! I spied three dusty, yet stylish, glass salad bowls. It immediately occurred to me that they would be perfect over my basil. I turned the pedestaled bowls upside down and indeed they looked like a cloche to me! Adding to the thrill? Bric a brac was 50% off, so each bowl was $1.
At home, they got a quick clean with hot water and ammonia and in short order, they were positioned over my tender sweet basil plants in the garden. To prevent the basil from getting charred on a hot day, I set some bricks nearby so I can vent the cloche and cool the setup.
When I stepped back to survey the results, I thought they definitely have a European vintage glass cloche effect, without the hefty price tag!
Daffodils! They have arrived. Strutting their cheerful ruffly flowers in gardens, parking strips and at grocery stores all over town. Without a doubt, they are a very welcome addition to the neighborhood because Seattle has been very dreary and rainy.
I have a few wayward daffodils blooming in my yard and in pots on the front steps, but for those of you who don’t, consider treating yourself to a little bunch…or two. They are generally far cheaper than the hot house tulips and they are just as lovely.
In order to get the most bang for your hard earned buck when buying a bunch of daffodils, choose those with tightly closed heads, and at home, trim the ends and plunge them in a vase of water. If you want to get the flowers to open a little faster, use warm water. If you want to slow the blooming process and make them last, use cool water. However, because daffodil stems release an oozy sap when cut, don’t combine daffodils with other flowers such as tulips because the arrangement will wilt faster due to the sticky liquid!
The days are getting brighter out here in the Pacific Northwest and that means it’s time to spring ahead. Even though we are still in the depths of winter, I use this month to start many of the plants and vegetables I want in my summer garden. Tomatoes, sweet peas, kales, lettuces, and cabbages being just a few.
I, obviously, can’t plant them outside at this time of year, but I can sow them in my little home and indeed I do! This task, aside from satiating my green thumb, also allows me to grow a wide array of varieties and it saves me a ton of money, as flower and vegetable starts get pricier every year at the nurseries.
So, with this in mind, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tools and tips for getting your seeds off to a strong start.
Get a Seedling Heat Mat! Seeds need heat to sprout and electric seedling heat mats are the perfect tool for the task. They come in a variety of sizes, which is very convenient for smaller households. I purchased my Hydrofarm mat years ago and it still works great, maintaining a gentle and low even heat. I’ve also used windowsill heat mats to maximize space. That worked well too!
Simplify with Jiffy Pellets. Over the years I’ve experimented with seeds, pots and seedling potting mix but to be honest, I’ve found that to be messy and time consuming. So, now I simply order Jiffy Peat Soil Pellets in bulk from Amazon. The pellets rehydrate with hot water in a flash and make it super easy for me to sow some seeds in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, when it’s time to plant the seedlings, the whole plug can go right in the ground, minimizing transplant shock.
Save those plastic salad and takeout boxes. When sowing seeds indoors, it’s important to create a warm somewhat moist environment for the seeds to sprout and grow. I have discovered that the large salad boxes are perfect mini greenhouses! I put the Jiffy Soil Pellets in the box, rehydrate the pellets, sow the seeds, cover with the lid, and set on the heat mat. Boom! The seeds sprout often in a few days.
Get a spray bottle. Seedlings need moisture daily and the only tool for these gentle little sprouts is a spray bottle. Mist the seedlings gently daily and they’ll flourish!
Let there be light! If you are lucky enough to have a sunny window with southern exposure, you might not need supplemental light. However, here in Seattle, even with some southern exposure, my seedlings still need supplemental light in order to flourish and avoid getting leggy. My favorite tools come from the Hydrofarm Jumpstart system purchased years ago at a local nursery and now available from Amazon.
Be Inspired…sow…what are you waiting for? Growing your own seedlings is fun, creative, thrifty and healthy. Give it a try!
Peonies. Prince William Sound Salmon. Cruise Ships. Tourists. Sunshine. Sea Breezes.
The Pike Place Market I visited today is much different than the one I visited last January. Of course, TECHNICALLY and structurally it’s the same as it was back in January but this morning. the market wasn’t tenuously navigating Seattle’s unpredictable January weather.
Today, the market was strutting her seasonal stuff and loving it! Once again, I had to be downtown very early so after I “checked the box” on an errand well before 7:30 AM, I decided to stroll down the hill and head to the market. It was bright and sunny, and I figured it would be a great time to beat the crowds and see what’s coming in locally.
Alas, when I arrived I again found quiet streets and walkways. My first destination? The flower vendors who were clipping and arranging thousands of local peonies. One of my favorite flowers, the incredible array made me swoon. As much as I love to garden and have success with many things, my attempts to grow peonies have failed repeatedly. These bodacious pink orbs, frankly, made me green with envy! I didn’t buy any simply because I didn’t want to cart them all over. That being said, they were a bargain and the prices ranged from $10 a bunch to $20. Local. Seasonal. Gorgeous beyond compare.
Next stop? The fish stalls. All the guys were sporting their waterproof orange pants, spraying the walkways, scooping crushed ice onto displays and answering questions from early birds like me. At Pike Place Fish Market they didn’t have any Copper River King or Sockeye because it’s been a rough season up there this far. They did have a massive 25 pound Prince William Sound king in a huge bin filled with ice. The adjacent tabletop display of Prince William Sound sockeye nearby also impressed.
After that, I was ready for a breather so I traipsed over to the nearby park to do a little people watching and eyeball the massive cruise ship docked nearby. As I examined that Norwegian behemoth from afar, I knew the crowds from within would be emerging and heading towards the market so I beelined to breakfast at nearby Seatown, one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants. The Fried Egg sandwich with avocado, Bavarian Meats bacon and a side of crispy hash browns was just what I needed before trekking back UP the hill to catch my bus.
While schlepping up to Third, I realized that the Market is indeed a living entity that shifts with each Seattle season.
Gardens in New York City? Can they really offer a respite from the urban jungle and the endless horn honking?
These were the questions I posed to myself when I was in New York City for four days last month. I was attending the Annual Conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and was also visiting my daughter who just moved to Manhattan.
With a little advance planning and a razor-focused gameplan, we managed to visit three gorgeous gardens–The Gardens at the Met Cloisters, the Heather Garden in nearby Fort Tryon Park, and the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. All of the gardens were magnificent, inspiring and restorative. Here’s the recap:
The Gardens at the Met Cloisters
Located in Washington Heights in Fort Tryon Park, The Met Cloisters is the ultimate respite. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Hudson, the historic Romanesque and Gothic cloisters are naturally inspiring in and of themselves, but for me, it was the medieval courtyard gardens that hit home. My daughter and I went early on a Sunday morning and the four gardens–the Judy Black Garden, the Herb Garden, the Trie Cloister Garden and the Orchard, were in full swing. There are garden tours at 11 am each day but unfortunately when we got there the couple in front of us snagged the last two spots for the day so we had to explore on our own.
Of the four gardens, the Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden was my favorite…for obvious reasons. As an avid cook, food writer and gardener, I love growing edibles and the Herb Garden was deliciously inspiring. Boasting scenic views of the river below, the garden was segmented into quadrants of culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, and vegetables. Fruit trees were situated throughout the plantings. Large terracotta pots were planted with olive trees, rosemary and other tender plants. Church bells rang from above and sparrows flittered about amongst the plantings. The plants were all carefully labeled and insights as to how they were used in the Middle Ages were noted.
The Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park
After the Cloisters, we decided to hunt down another Secret Garden. I had read something that alluded to a beautiful garden near The Cloisters but I couldn’t remember where it was so I started asking the staff at the Cloisters. No one seemed to know so I eventually had to go to the museum’s information booth and ask about “that nice garden nearby.” One informed gentleman in a back office heard my query, came forth, and then went off to another office to pull out a little brochure called The Heather Garden. He handed it to me and said, just go left down that way into the park. Ummm. Okay.
So, we trekked along, asked for a few more directions, trotted past the New Leaf Restaurant and eventually stumbled upon our secret destination!
Well, what a treasure! Fort Tryon Park was gifted to the City in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller Jr who then engaged the Olmsted Brothers, whose father designed Central Park, to design the park and the heather gardens. Over the decades the garden has had its ups and downs but in 2009 the Fort Tryon Park Trust reinvigorated the garden to what it is today…a multiacre all season garden boasting nearly 500 varieties of plants that attract flora and fauna such as birds, bees, and beneficial wildlife. When we were there, the garden was alive with blooms of bluebells, azaleas, iris, rhododendrons, peonies, salvia and more. Aside from enticing Crayola color scheme at hand, the city air was also perfumed with heady aromas from the flowers at hand.
The Central Park Conservatory Garden
The last garden on our list was the Central Park Conservatory Garden located in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue and 105th. An officially designated Quiet Zone, this six-acre formal garden was delightfully QUIET when we visited early on a sunny Monday morning. The main entrance is on Fifth Avenue and features the Vanderbilt Gate, a massive wrought iron structure made in Paris and originally from the Vanderbilt Mansion on 5th. The garden itself features three smaller gardens each with an Italianate, French and English influence. When we were there we had just missed some of the best blooms, such as the wisteria and the gorgeous tulips. That being said, the fountains and European sculptures made us feel as if we had landed in a beautiful garden somewhere in Europe.
If you have a garden, they are easy to grow and they add a delicious splash of color both in the yard and on the table. Some easy options? Calendula, chive blossoms, lemon gem marigolds, and nasturtiums are at the top of the list.
I’ve grown these annuals for years. The packets of seeds or starter plants are inexpensive and the plants don’t require a lot of fussy upkeep. Many of them even attract bees and ward off those sticky pests known as aphids. Admittedly, however, I haven’t really bothered to sprinkle them on my dinner lately. That might change this year.
Looking for some direction on how to get started in your own backyard or on your balcony? Check out this Edible Flower Collection Seed Packet from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. And, while considering this trend, be prudent and educate yourself before chomping.
Not only do you get fresh air, exercise and Vitamin D when you weed, plant and prattle around in the soil but you also get hyperlocal produce for dinner! Afterall, it was plucked from your garden, patio or even windowsill.
It doesn’t get much more regional than that, folks!
I’ve been an avid gardener for probably thirty years now and I continue to be amazed at how a simple little seed can ultimately work its way through the soil and onto my dinner plate a few months later.
Even if you think you don’t have a green thumb or a sprawling yard, seriously consider growing something. Think about what vegetables you enjoy, do a little planning and give it a shot.
Chives or parsley can be “planted” on a sunny windowsill. Mini lettuces can be sown in patio planters or in small spaces in the garden. Even tomatoes, such as Tom Thumb and Stupice, which are great for small gardens, can produce prolifically in a pot and taste great in a salad.
Need some inspiration? Here are a couple of my favorite resources for sowing the seeds of dinner!
Seed Racks at the Garden Center or Grocery Store
Don’t snarf at the seed racks in the big box stores. The seeds are well priced and the displays have a great variety. You can also score a deal by using coupons and the varieties featured are usually pretty easy to grow. Read the sowing instructions and give it a shot. I regularly buy Burpee and Ed Hume from the racks at my Fred Meyer. What do I purchase? Zinnias, lettuces, chards, herbs, cosmos, sunflowers and more. Want a small space variety? Look for the little container icon on the Burpee packets. It’s a great indicator of which ones will work well in a mini-plot.
Order some seed catalogs and read them on a rainy day. They make great wish books. I circle and mark mine up and then order. I have found some great small space varieties at both Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine and at Territorial Seed Catalog in Oregon. My insider tip? When in doubt, call the customer service folks at these companies. They are incredibly knowledgeable and have steered me in the right direction many times.
Spring fever in January is never a good thing, especially out here in Seattle where it is still a bleak, cold, dark, sometimes frosty, and always rainy.
For me, the best medicine has been a hefty dose of garden therapy. Of course, it’s too early to start digging and planting in my urban backyard or P-Patch, but one thing I look forward to every year is the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. Held at the Washington State Convention Center from February 7-11, this annual garden show has always defrosted my green thumb.
This year the show, which is the second largest in the nation, celebrates a legacy of 30 years. The theme will be “Garden Party.” Trends in organic and urban gardening, sustainability, and variety of culinary experiences will be embraced and the twenty magnificent and elaborate Show Gardens will reflect the theme. The show will also have a spectacular lineup of seminars led by experts in the field as well as daily DIY competitions with experts. As usual, the massive shopping Marketplace will be chock full of vendors and will offer a great opportunity for gardeners, both experienced and beginner, to get answers, explore new varieties, ask growers specific questions, and stock up on favorites for the season ahead.
So, if you are itching for spring, check your calendar and plan accordingly. If you need a little inspiration, check out these photos taken last year:
Well, I admit it. I start thinking about the upcoming tomato season in December. Seattle is ridiculously dark and rainy during the last month of the year, but without fail that’s when my tomato and garden catalogs trickle in and that’s when I leave the holiday hubbub at the door and start to plan for the spring.
This year, we are having a ridiculously cold and rainy spring and everyone is wondering when the dreary weather will hit the road. No one has any answers and the media even salts the communal wound by publishing articles saying this is the rainiest season EVER for the Emerald City.
That being said, I am still marching forth on my tomato planning but I am also preparing for what will most likely be a late and truncated tomato season. When I moved to Seattle from New York over twenty years ago, I got turned on to the Eastern European heirloom tomatoes. I was told that these varieties are naturally conducive to Seattle’s maritime climate and that they produced flavorful unique tomatoes that defy the odds. Indeed, varieties such as Black Krim, Moskvich, Gregori’s Altai, Cosmonaut Volkov, Stupice and Siberia have been the backbone of my tomato beds for year. These varieties sit alongside the classic heirlooms such as Carmello, San Marzano, Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine.
I often push the envelope and plant my tomatoes around April 15th but NOT this year because nighttime temperatures are still dipping to 40, which is way too cold. Hence, I’m coddling my plants at the kitchen table and at locations throughout my little house until the days get warmer and brighter.
If you haven’t gotten your tomato game plan in order yet, fear not because there’s still lots of time to reach for some of the Eastern Europeans. I grow some by seed but I also rely on the plants grown by Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island. You can find them at Sky Nursery in Shoreline, at Swanson’s Nursery in NW Seattle and at select farmer’s markets during spring. Or, you can simply order live plants directly from Territorial Seed in Oregon.
Well, it’s official. I am wrapping up a full year as a Seattle P-Patch gardener. The P-Patches here in Seattle are a network of 88 organic community gardens dotted throughout the city. Operated by the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the gardens have a legacy that dates back to about 1973 when the first one was started at Picardo Farm.
My little one-hundred square foot garden is located at the Haller Lake P-Patch, which is in North Seattle and only stone’s throw from I-5. Located in a quiet corner of a church parking lots, it’s been a delightful oasis and experiment for me this last year.
I’ve messed around with inter planting, growing small garden varieties, companion planting, succession planting and a whole lot more. Inspired by some vintage U.S. Government Victory Garden booklets that I found at an estate sale, I inter planted aggressively, pulled plants once they were totally spent, and replanted something new shortly thereafter in order to keep the produce coming. The rewards and yields were massive considering the tight quarters.
Some of the items, such as beets, peas, kales, chards and carrots were planted directly in the beds. Other things like Savoy cabbages, yellow pear tomatoes, and Red Iceberg lettuce were put in as starter plants purchased at the nursery. In mid June some items like winter kale and Brussels sprouts were started by seed at home and when transplanted to my P-Patch, simply tucked under the tomato plants. I figured the loftier tomato plants would protect the little starts from harsh summer sun and heat.
The garden organizers at my P-Patch keep telling us that we have til October 31 to plant our beds for the winter or simply clean them up, mulch them and let them take a snooze til spring. This year, I’ve opted to plant mine with cold weather varieties such as elephant garlic, kales, chards, rutabagas, purple kale, Nordic Brussel sprouts, and winter carrots. I wasn’t able to have a winter garden in my plot last year simply because I got my plot too late in the season. I’ve had a winter garden at home every year for about two decades now but I am really excited to push the proverbial limit and see what I can get in a SMALL space winter garden! Now, that’s a victory!