Topsy – Turveys – GREAT SPACE SAVER

Our heat pump just happens to be located in the best place on our property for the food garden.  It takes up some prime real estate against the house with the best southern exposure that we have.   It is going the stay there but the space above it has just been hanging out there…. wasted.   That bothered me.

our 5 topsy turvys
our 5 topsy turvys

I occasionally attend a ‘support group’ that discusses how to successfully grow food in this area, and how to overcome the problems that come with gardening in the shadow of the a mountain in the pacific northwest.  No… really there is such a group!  We toured some houses.  One really impressed me.  This home is in  neighborhood of tract homes.  It looks like many of the other homes in the area, pleasantly landscaped from the street.  The back yard was a tastefully designed as a food garden.  Easy maintenance gravel paths with fruit trees, berry bushes , raised beds with cloches and lots of pots with root vegetable and lettuces.  It was not only beautiful but prolific.  She was successfully growing tomatoes and peppers in topsy turvys.  Tomatoes are peppers are hard to grow in this area because of our short season and wet and cold springs and falls.  She was having great success.  My goal has been to have a food garden that is beautiful and prolific all year.

topsy turvy 3I admit that I felt that topsy turvys  were a little too ‘as seen on TV’ for our garden.  Then…. I saw 3 of them at a discount store for $ 3.00 each.  Later I found a couple more new in their packages for $1.00 each at a garage sale.    Last year we hung tomatoes in the topsy turvys.   I learned several things from our moderate success last year.

1) don’t overfill with soil, leave about an inch at the top

2) make sure that you have very good solid hooks and chains, these can be very heavy

3) they are difficult to water (when they are over your head) so we put in irrigation


topsy turvy 2
3 way diverter

We attached a 3 way diverter to the faucet and bought a simple irrigation set from the local hardware store and set up a system to turn on the water and water them all at once.  Easy peasy.!


So the advantages of  topsy – turvys?

– Hang em high and the elk, deer and rabbits can’t get to them

– use irrigation for easy efficient watering

– the sun warms the roots better than it warms the soil around here

– they can be a very efficient use of space


This project probably cost us around $50.00

for 5 sturdy chains & hooks, 5 topsy turvys, soil, 5 tomatoes, irrigation system.


More later about how well they work.  I will compare them to the results compared to the  fancy new mini – greenhouse my husband built over part of one of the raised beds.






Blackberry & Raspberry Success!

What a difference a year makes!  Two years ago we put in the food garden including the berry bed. Berries gone wild!
2014 - june - berry garden update 4watermark
the first year they sleep – March 2012 – new berries are just little sticks
The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they LEAP
We gardeners all have seen this in action in our own gardens.
2014 - june - berry garden update 3 watermark
– the second year they creep -2013 early summer, I planted lots of other things around the berries to cover the soil.

The berry bed is a concrete raised bed about 3.5 ‘ wide and about 15 feet long. There is a trellis and wire to hold the berries gone wild from taking over the pathways. 

raspberry flowers and berries
raspberry flowers and berries

I don’t know why we bother to read the suggestions about how close plants should be placed, but for whatever reason we keep reading and then totally disregarding the advice. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to plant double the recommendations for spacing raspberry varieties and the thornless blackberries.

2014 - june - berry garden update 2
the third year they leap! 2014

They are proving to be very vigorous.  Just how much trouble could these vines get into?  They are in a concrete bed… that’ll keep them fenced in… right?   Now – They are 5 to 6 feet tall and there are just a few hints of the raspberries looking to set up housekeeping outside of the bed.  Lots of buzzing bees are blanketing the billions and billions of flowers (ok – so billions is an exaggeration – but there are a lot!)

We are looking forward to lots of berries this year. Can’t wait to taste the thornless blackberries. More on that after the taste test.

Plant buying tip: We bought berry plants from local nurseries and Raintree. The plants from rain tree were by far the most vigorous, and they have an amazing selection of edibles. 

Growing tips: We mulched every fall with a compost / fine bark mix.  I also threw a few coffee grounds in the garden, when I thought of it. 

‘Common’ Mahonia Deserves Another Look

Today we had a brief respite between rain and wind storms. As I was strolling the yard making the pre-spring assessment of what needs to be done… a sweet fragrance caught my attention.mahonia 'charity' 2

We love to collect the rare and interesting flora, often taking for granted the ‘common’ plant materials that provide the bones of the garden. This Oregon grape is found commonly in many Northwest Nurseries. Mahonia stands quietly in the garden most of the year, going unnoticed, while adding shape and structure. In early March it come to life with blooms in whorls of delicate and fragrant yellow flowers. It was such a treat to smell the sweet fragrance and see the delicate blooms on such a study plant that I wanted to share the outstanding qualities of this wonderfully common family of Mahonia.mahonia 'charity' 3

mahonia 'charity' 1

The flowers will be replaced by waxy dark berries in grape like clusters in late summer into early fall. The evergreen foliage has an upright growth habit, with deep green, prickly leaves in arranged in whorls. In my part of the world, one of the most redeeming features to this shrub is that it is of no interest to rabbits, deer or elk, but the hummingbirds find it appealing.

CARE: In our yard we have several varieties and have used it in several places. Mahonia has thrived in a variety of light, moisture and soil situations. We may prune occasionally for shape. Our winter temperatures get down to single digits most years and wind speeds over 35 mph are not unusual. Mahonia takes it all in stride, showing few signs of wear and no signs of stress. No wonder it is among the ‘great plant picks’ collection.

We have collected several different varieties of mahonias, from common to exotic. In the back yard, in the spring….the 6-7 foot tall sturdy deep green leaves of Charity are beautifully contrasted with delicate sprays of pale pink candelabra primroses and the deeper rose double blooming perennial ’Corporal Baxter’ primroses. As summer approaches and the primrose blooms fade, they are replaced with a ground cover of dusty blue hostas and miniature ‘Twist of Lime’ hostas. To its left stands a vigorous ‘Coppertina’ physocarpus (ninebark) providing wonderful color contrast. mahonia 'charity' 4

Most mahonia prefers full sun to dappled shade, is drought tolerant once established, but also does well in our very damp weather -3/4 of the year. It prefers a well-drained soil, but will tolerate sandy sites and clay.   Most are hardy – zone 6 -7.  Some varieties are more tender: ‘Dan Hinkley’ – a small slender growing plant and ‘gracilipesis’ – with beautiful blue-gray green foliage and silver undersides. We planted this one on a hill in hopes of being able to admire the underside as it grows.

There is a mahonia choice (or two) that is perfect in any garden.


  • I love to find a great deal.
  • I love to re-purpose something someone might just add to a landfill.
  • I love to see my plant treasures thriving in my garden

Sometimes you just need a ‘mini-greenhouse’ to get some tender plants a bit of a start in the spring.   We’ve done it forever in the vegetable garden in the form of cold frames.

mini greenhouseswm
a few converted lights

I have an ‘interesting’ assortment of ‘mini-greenhouses’.   I am always looking for hanging light fixtures at garage sales.  There are lots of 70’s glass and brass fixtures being upgraded to something current.  The people selling them are usually as enthusiastic about finding someone that wants them  as I am when I see them, so I don’t ever pay more than a few bucks.


I bring them home and take the electrical ‘guts’ out.  This usually just requires about 15 minutes and a pair of pliers.  If there is a ring for hanging the fixture, I put it back on so I have an easy way to carry it around.  After throwing out the ‘guts’ what you are left with is a mini-greenhouse.  If there are a few screw holes in the top, it’s no problem, it just adds a bit of ventilation.

primula auricula ‘marmalon’

The delicate blooms of this primula auricula ‘marmalon’ have been protected against the bunnies, deer, elk, heavy rain, hail, and high winds that surely would have damaged or destroyed it.

Do be careful on sunny days.   Your delicate plants can sunburn.  I take them all off and store them when our weather turns warm.

Big Monster Perennial, BUTTERBUR aka PETASITES


A member of the Aster family

Addie under petacites wmAKA: butterbur, coltswold

It’s a Monster!  This leaf was over 36″ across.  That beautiful little 2-year-old is standing underneath it.  She called it her umbrella.  WOW!  Leaves like this just don’t happen in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s crazy (but fun) in our part of the world.  🙂

Some interesting facts:   It was
used by Native Americans as a remedy for headache and inflammation,  Some species contain the chemicals
petasin and isopetasin  which are believed to have potential benefits in treating headaches and can be an effective treatment for hay fever without the sedative effect of the antihistamines.

petacites gigantica bloomspike
petacites gigantica bloomspike

It’s a bold, textural, monster of a plant.  It arrives in the early spring with a strange alien looking bloom spike, followed by leaves that increase in size, until they are too large to be ignored, making them interesting from the time they appear until the end of the season.

How it grows and blooms:  In early spring there is a bloom spike, followed by leaves as the bloom dies out.  They are robust plants with thick, creeping underground rhizomes and large leaves during the growing season.   Some varieties will  grow up to 5’ tall, spreading up to 4’ wide.

petacites varigatus wm
petacites varigatus, tri-color leaf

What it needs:    Plant in full sun to shade. It is very tolerant of most soils, as long it is kept from moist to wet.   All of these petacites have done well in for the last 5 or more years in our yard.  Our winter temperatures have been down to 8*f, so they can take it pretty cold.

How to propagate:  gently separate the clumps.  Potting them up or planting them directly into the garden and keep them cool and moist until they take root.   This is best done in the early spring of fall.  You can put umbrellas over them to protect them from hot sun.

petacites purpureus wmProblems:   A real favorite of slugs.  We bait regularly in wet weather.

Place carefully: this is an aggressive spreader and difficult to eradicate once established. Spreading can be controlled by using bamboo barrier or sinking a heavy plastic or metal tub into the ground and planting within the tub.

How to use it in the landscape:  Petacites are great in large containers, beds or borders.  They will do beautifully at the edges of ponds, streams and wetland areas, since they will tolerate shallow standing water.    Maybe we should add it to our vegetable gardens:  Young leaf stems are used as a vegetable in Japan.  ( I haven’t tried it yet )

Some varieties:    

petasites japonicus var. giganteus,  petasites japonicus var. varigatus,  petasites japonicus var. purpureus, petasites palmatus ‘Golden Palms’

petacites golden palms wm

Photo notes:  All of these photos were taken in our yard, 2012 & 2013.

The umbrella leaf  photo and the bloom spike are both photos of petasites japonicus var. giganteus.

The tri-colored leaf is a very early spring  leaf from petasites japonicus var. varigatus.

The   petasites japonicus var purpureus   has stems and veins that are much more purple than the photo reflects.

The petasites palmatus ‘Golden Palms’  was stuck into the rotted center of a stump several years ago and now is growing all through the stump.  It’s in a very shady spot and it very happy.  The slugs seem to find it less interesting than some of the other varieties.

Any of these would be an exiting and unusual perennial addition to your garden!


Kale is covered in Aphids, so what’s good about that…

So… the kale is getting older, a bit past it’s prime.  I’ve been dehydrating it as I have had time, and pulverizing the dehydrated kale to use in soups and stews over the fall and winter.

Whenever I have kale leaves that are not of ‘human food quality’ these go to the chickens.  They go wild for kale.  It’s like ice cream!  What could be  better than kale for the chickens?  Chickens love bugs!  lots of bugs.  Kale covered in aphids is like the hot chocolate fudge on a really good vanilla ice cream.


Aphids – For years I have considered aphids a pest that diminished my harvest and damaged my plants.  I guess it’s true, ‘one mans trash is another’s treasure.   Those pesky aphids are an incredible taste sensation, so it seems!

Making good use of aphids….

Yet another reason why everyone should have a few chickens!  😉

Daylilies – A Favorite of Mine

I’ve been collecting plants for about 25 years.

Daylilies have been a favorite, starting almost 30 years ago when I was pouring through seed catalogs and found seeds for some tetraploid varieties.  I started seeds and that was that.  The deal was sealed, I’ve been collecting ever since.  I took pieces from those first plants and moved them to ourhomeinthewoods with us, where they still grow.

My mother in laws neighbor was very active in the daylily associations and developed many of her own, before she passed away.  I was lucky enough to have been able to buy some from her, about 10 years ago and they are some of the most special and most beautiful in the garden.  Her standards were very high,  I just knew what I liked.   ‘Condilla’ is one of my favorites.  Thanks Margaret,  your daylilies live on in many gardens, rest in peace.

We have over 50 different varieties, maybe more and at least 500 in our yard.  It makes quite a show in the summer.  We have the variegated striped foliage daylily, one of the tallest, at almost 6 feet, ‘notify ground crew’ and one of the smallest.  They are almost all finishing blooming now with only a few lingerers slowly preparing for fall.

Daylilies are an easy to grow perennial.  Rather than spending words here… I will refer you to  There you can get all your questions answered, but I will share a few of my photos with you.

Maybe daylilies will become a favorite of yours too.



Self sufficient…. not this year.

Well, it’s almost the end of August and it’s our first season vegetable gardening at our home in the woods. It’s time to access how things are going and to look toward fall.  As I write this, I’m sitting in my garden chair looking out over the garden. I had expected to be sitting in this chair looking out over the bounty that we had planted and filling our vegetable basket daily. Things haven’t quite turned out as I planned.

In light of so many people suffering through terrible droughts this year, I feel kinda bad even mentioning our weather this year, but in the spirit of ‘information’ about (or excuses for) crop failures, it has to be mentioned. The pacific northwest has been exceptionally wet and cloudy this ‘summer’. We have barely had to water at all.

Crops….. Well let’s just say that we won’t be any more ‘self sufficient’ this year, unless we develop a taste for nothing but kale chips or dehydrated kale. That doesn’t seem too likely, but In the true spirit of a gardener, I’m already planning for next season.

Fruit trees: this is the first year for the them. We expected little or nothing, and got only a little more than nothing.

The Honeycrisp apple tree has one apple, but that one apple really looks great!

The ‘North Pole’ columnar apple tree has several on it.

The 2 dwarf pears trees have nothing on them.

Three espaliers ( multiple varieties of apples, pears and Asian pears) have nothing on them. Maybe next year..

We had a great strawberry crop. Plenty to eat, not enough to put any up. Delicious!

Raspberries: the ones we bought from Raintree nursery look great, the ones we bought from our local nursery died. There are a few berries on them, they are dellicious. The leaves are looking a bit anemic, so we put down an organic fertilizer.

Blackberries: 4 thornless Apache
Slow but starting to take root. No fruit. Next year…..

Blueberries: 20 plants, 5 varieties. They have produced lightly and are very tasty. The plants are strong, healthy and growing. We are putting coffee grounds and steerco around them. Again, we’re looking forward to next year. Lucky with live two miles from a blueberry farm.

Tomatoes, well, that’s another disappointment, but no surprise. There are 5 plants, about 6 tomatoes and they are all under 2″ diameters and a beautiful shade of orange – green.

The corn looks the same as it did when I put it in in June, some is producing silks at only 1 foot tall. Those aren’t working out as planned either.

Squashes, melons, and cucumbers are all ridiculously small. I don’t expect much from them, but we have about 4 more weeks, maybe we’ll get a few.

Lettuce; some was good, especially the ‘flashy troutback’. Others bolted while very small. We don’t know why.

Beets, radishes, pac choy all bolted while very small.

Peas – small crop but very good. I left some of them too long and they got bitter so I’m saving them to seed next year.

Swiss chard: bunny ate them.

Green beans: 1st planting – deformed and small because a bunny nibbled the tops. 2nd planting – small harvest, 3rd planting – hope to get a few more before fall.

Carrots: very slow and very small. I’m holding out a little hope.

Kale: Growing like crazy in a shady damp spot. Starting to harvest and dehydrate.

Onions: all sorts. Some ok, some rotted because it’s been so wet.

Leeks & garlic: Doing ok, not great.

Herbs: are taking root and doing well.

That’s the update.
So good, some not so good. Lots of hope for next year.

I just planted for fall….. We’ll see…..

Hope your gardens are producing adundently!


Caterpillars be warned!

You know, if its not one thing…it’s another. Our garden is constantly under siege. It is protected adequately against deer, elk and rabbits. Today I went out to pick some kale for dinner. There, in all it’s glory is a caterpillar, just one caterpillar. My mind first travels to the cute little caterpillar songs I listen to with our granddaughter. They’re not so bad, in fact they’re interesting, even kind of cute. Then I notice how much damage one evil little caterpillar can do to the only really successful crop currently growing in the food garden. The very same food garden that was that going to launch us toward self sufficiency, well maybe not this year.

I immediately dispatched that caterpillar and looked for evidence of it’s friends and family. I didn’t find anything, but I will be keeping a watchful eye. The bad leaf isn’t a total loss. It was a treat that delighted the chickens. Caterpillars be warned! I’m looking for you.

Caterpillar update:  I went out again to pick kale.  Eagle eyed and looking for the furry predators.  OMG, I found 3 more. All different kinds colors and sizes.  The war is on!


Small Space Garden Update…

Well, it’s been several months and we have the hope of harvesting some fruit from this small bed.

The columnar apple tree ‘north pole’ is fruiting. There are a lot of little apples on this small tree.

The second photo shows all the strawberries that are fruiting around the apple tree, in this small section. (there are over a hundred strawberries in the other garden spaces)

The pot is containing 3 kinds of mint. We are keeping them here rather than the herb garden because they are so invasive.

Soon we will be eating strawberries, ( if we can beat the animals to them.)

The weather has been very, very, very wet for the last month or so. The warm weather crops are growing very slowly. Slugs are fat and happy.