Seasonal Highlights Take a Holiday Hiatus

December 23rd, 2010 by Pat Chinn-Sloan

Seasonal Highlights will be start up again on January 3, 2011.  We hope you enjoyed viewing our 2010 WPA cuttings page as much as we enjoyed presenting them.  It’s been an excellent way for our staff to keep up with their botany and plant names.  Until then –

UWBG Horticulture staff wishes everyone Happy Holidays and a Healthy New Year!

Washington Park Arboretum Mitigation Plan Released by WSDOT

December 23rd, 2010 by Tech Librarian, Tracy Mehlin

SR 520 signIn the 2010 legislative session, a bill was introduced that required the Washington State Department of Transportation, in its efforts to push forward the 520 bridge renovation and replacement, to focus on minimizing and addressing potential impacts to the Washington Park Arboretum.  A group representing the Arboretum Botanical Garden Committee, which advises the University of Washington, City of Seattle and The Arboretum Foundation on the management and stewardship of the Washington Park Arboretum, worked with WSDOT on addressing issues outlined in ESSB 6392.  Based upon this discussion, WSDOT issued a report to the Governor.  This was a very important document as it acknowledges both historical and future impacts.  Representing the University of Washington were Theresa Doherty and Fred Hoyt, the City: Barbara Wright, Parks and Recreation: Donald Harris and Michael Shiosaki and the Arboretum Foundation: Paige Miller (with Nancy Belcher providing technical assistance).

Washington Park Mitigation Plan, December 22, 2010

CUH Update – December 2010: Overcoming November’s Cold Spell

December 15th, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Several weeks after an unusual early snow and cold snap, the grounds at CUH have looked like a bomb was detonated and we’re just now cleaning up the aftermath. OK, it wasn’t that bad, but the clean-up continues as the holiday season is well underway and we’re doing our best to keep things clean and presentable to our many guest this time of year.

Having the snow was actually quite a sight as it emphasizes the strength of the structure, or so called “bones” of a landscape, so beautifully.

Here you can see some of the changes made to the Fragrance Garden this past year as we thinned out a few plants and transplanted several specimens to allow more room for certain species to really thrive.

Nolina nelsonii in the McVay Courtyard

Always the stand-out in every season is our stunning Nolina from Mexico. Dusted in pure white powder, it withstands the cold and remains such an iconic plant in a garden that will undergo a slight facelift as we reconfigure some of the plantings and add some for floral interests come spring.

Container composition up against Issacson Hall.

Even the effective composition of an evergreen container is emphasized by winter’s snow. During the growing season, this Osmanthus heterophyllus, flanked by a prostrate Podocarpus, Heuchera ‘Purple Petticoats’ and a maidenhair fern. In the shade for the majority of the day, it isn’t all that exciting. But as the snow arrives, it instantly becomes a sight to behold.

Helleborus argutifolius 'Silver Lace'

The same could be said of this fairly new selection of Helleborus argutifolius called ‘Silver Lace’. It’s been a plant that not many people really take note of unless it’s paired with a contrasting color or texture in the garden, but the added snow creates a most unusual and beautiful effect.

Phlomis ruselliana seedheads

With so much clean up, cutting back and dead-heading to do in the fall, you just can’t quite get to everything, but once the weather doesn’t cooperate to allow you to finish your work, the resulting image in the landscape can be quite enchanting. This Jerusalem Sage was never cut back after blooming, but capped in a light dusting of snow, it is truly elegant.


Persicaria in the Soest Garden

“Overcooked spinach” is what one visitor said to describe the mess a cold spell can bring. A task that I meant to do a few weeks back suddenly rises up on the priority to-do list.

Cold damaged Daphne bholua

For the third year in a row, our poor Daphne bholua has, once again, suffered from an early frost and cold damage. This species typically begins blooming around Christmas time for us, but the past few winters have been so unforgiving, we just pray that it recovers and is allowed to branch out and flower again next year.

Cold Damaged Edgeworthia chrysantha

A relative of the Daphne is the beloved Chinese Paper Bush or Edgeworthia. Each winter, since it was planted, the cold seems to damage the buds as they form so very few flowers are produced. Ideally, the plant would have formed its buds over the summer and into autumn, the foliage yellows and drops and by then, the plant is prepared for the onset of cold temperatures and the buds continue to develop and flower beginning in early February or so. The problem has been: the foliage never fully yellows so the plant isn’t allowed to go into a proper dormancy before the cold sets in; therefore, the buds are further damaged. Seeing these fuzzy undeveloped buds that still look plump and firm gives us hope that they’ll mature properly, but the fact that it isn’t even officially winter yet worries me.

There’s a lot to see and observe at CUH right now, but one of the highlights is a exciting brand new plant (you didn’t think I’d end this report on a sad note, did you?) we’ve acquired as a container specimen for Merrill Hall Commons. Though being advertised as hardy and suited for our mild Seattle climate, this relative of a fairly common houseplant has been the talk of plant aficionados around as the grower who was introducing it accidentally “leaked” a few specimens to local nurseries and we managed to secure one prior to its wide distribution. This is the stunning and elegant Taiwanese Umbrella Tree botanically known as Schefflera taiwaniana.

Schefflera taiwaniana

Like any new and exciting plant we acquire for our collections, I like to think of each one as a gift to the public: our visitors who come near and far to enjoy the surroundings and admire the work we do here at CUH.

I want to dedicate this Schefflera to you all and hope you have a chance to see it here or acquire it for your own garden in the near future.

On behalf of UWBG and the entire grounds staff here at CUH, I want to wish you all a warm and happy holidays and an exciting new year!


Riz Reyes
Soest Perennial Display Gardener
UW Botanic Gardens – Center for Urban Horticulture

Food Security Conference

December 8th, 2010 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

I had the privilege of attending some of the Regional Food Security Conference this past weekend at CUH, and wanted to share what I learned…

The plenary session Sunday morning was a joint effort by 3 presenters who each provided unique perspectives into successful small scale regional farming projects happening around the world. The one that stood out for me was presented by Travis English, a UW MA candidate, who spoke of the Tumaini Women’s Group in Kenya whose members are comprised of 20+ elderly widows. The youngest of these women farmers is Florence at 72 years old. The HIV/AIDS epidemic so prevalent in much of Africa not only claimed these women’s husbands, but many of their children as well leaving them to care for 70+ orphaned grandchildren. Yet despite these hardships, with the help of a progressive organization named Grow BioIntensive Agricultural Centre of Kenya, or GBIACK, these women have been able to lift themselves up out of poverty and become completely self-reliant. It was an inspiring story that makes the obstacles of creating our own sustainable regional food system seem trivial and easily overcome.

The conference proceeded to split up into smaller groups to focus on a variety of food security related topics. I set up shop in Douglas Classroom where our very own Katie Murphy kicked things off to a standing-room only crowd. I was familiar with Katie’s research from a public speaking class we had together almost 2 years ago. Katie, in addition to running the Herbarium, has spent these past two years taking a simple idea and shaping it into a full blown cutting edge research project that takes a hard look at an often over-looked gardening spot, the parking strip. We drive past them and walk over them every day, but could these mundane omnipresent features of our urban environment be better used to grow food? A lot of Seattleites think so and are already growing vegetable gardens in these places, but should they be? Who knows where these soils have been or what heavy metals they may have been hanging out with for the last 100 years? These are the questions that Katie’s research aims to answer through careful and thorough scientific investigation. You’ll have to wait for Katie’s finished paper to get the whole story, but at least from her preliminary results, there is about 190 acres of prime real estate in northwest Seattle ripe for an urban agricultural revival.

The next speaker to present was Steve Jones a plant breeder and the director of The Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center of WSU. Steve is a wheat guy who has been researching and growing wheat for 30+ years. While the first 2/3 of his career was spent testing and growing wheat varieties for use in conventional farming, he’s spent the last 10 years advocating the value and viability of decentralized wheat growing systems. His shift in values seemed based on what to him is a stupefying reality – that the price of wheat is determined not by farmers, bakers or buyers but by traders, lenders and bureaucrats, people who wear ties & suits not coveralls & boots. Most of the wheat that we grow in this country is consumed in China, and most of it is grown from the exact same kind of proprietised genetically modified seed. States like Maine and Vermont and Iowa that once boasted thriving wheat harvests now grow nary a chafe.

But Steve was hopeful because of a recent resurgence of the small wheat farmer and a budding cottage industry based on artisan breads and beers made from local wheat varieties with unique characteristics. One thing that Steve said that stuck with me was his description of the people who make up this movement and the audiences of wheat growing workshops. These people are young, they are interested and they are interesting. It was refreshing to see this same demographic description reflected in the attendees of this food security conference, and indeed in the presenters themselves…

Andrew Corbin also of WSU, was the final presenter in Douglas before lunch, and to look at him and hear him speak he would seem just as natural strumming a six-string around a campfire on the beach as standing in front of a classroom lecturing, maybe more so. Andrew and his colleagues have recently been examining the age old farming question, “to till or not to till”. Since the invention of the iron plow some 2500 years ago, the answer has been “till”. But conventional farming’s methods and industrial efficiency has taken it’s toll on our planets breadbaskets and resulted in increasingly stratified soil profiles that make life hard for root systems. Over time, the soil layer immediately below the reach of the plow becomes an impenetrable hardpan. Steve’s research has shown the advantages of planting cover crops and then crimping them rather than turning them under. This rather low-tech method not only produces higher yields while fixing nitrogen but works as a weed barrier, earthworm haven and lid to keep CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Steve’s trials use a tractor powered crimper, but I have a small-scale farmer friend in CA who does it with simple hand tools…an approach easily adapted for the baker growing his/her specialty wheat in their parking strip.

For more on the conference:

And for an incredible Ted Talk from an 11 yr old on our food system:

December Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

December 6th, 2010 by Pat Chinn-Sloan

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum for December 2010

  1. Cotoneaster tengyuehensis (Tengyueh cotoneaster)
  2. Sorbus alnifolia (Korean mountain ash)
  3. Grevillea victoriae (royal grevillea)
  4. Viburnum tinus ‘Pink Prelude’
  5. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ (witch hazel)

Complete details.

December 2010 Plant Profile: Prunus ‘Mount Vernon’

December 2nd, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Contrary to its original form (Prunus laurocerasus), this selection of the common, overused and potentially invasive Cherry Laurel is a welcomed addition to any landscape. ‘Mt. Vernon’ is beginning to appear in many urban plantings both as a hugging evegreen groundcover or as a prostrate specimen shrub in front of a border. It is truly versatile, hardy, and a very dependable plant with glossy, deep green foliage that looks fabulous all year around. It is also slow growing and doesn’t have the “seeding-around” problem associated with Cherry Laurel in our climate. The low, almost creeping habit is exquisite especially around hardscapes and any areas you need to “soften” in appearance.

Common Name: Mount Vernon cherry laurel
Location: Soest Garden Bed 6
Family: Rosaceae
Origin: Garden Origin
Height: 12-15″
Spread: 4-6′
Bloom Time: Early Summer
Bloom Type/Color: Insignificant spikes of cream white flowers.
Water/Soil: Well drained, moderately moist. Can tolerate some drought once established