garden design . renovation . mentoring . installation . maintenance

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Website update

I finally have my website updated with all my newest gardening projects. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January Thoughts 1/11/11

I know I haven't posted anything in a year! Sorry! It has been a busy year for Gaga. Thank you! Now I am trying to catch up on my "to-do" list...stay tuned for an updated portfolio and revamped website!

The article in last Sunday's NW Magazine is worthy of some thought. We all have the urge to whack at our plants... I think it is a good habit to ask ourselves before we prune, or shear, what are we trying to accomplish and why are we cutting...For the most part, if we have planted the right plant in the right place, there are very few reasons to cut. Read on...

Originally published Saturday, January 8, 2011 at 7:04 PM Seattle's pruning princess cautions against cuts that kill

Good pruning is invisible. Done right, the tree or shrub looks tidier after pruning, but natural. Shearing, where all the branch tips are cut off in a uniform, nonselective way, has nothing to do with a plant's natural habit.

By Valerie Easton

BAD TOPIARY is a crime against nature . . . It's as undignified as putting a tutu on a lion," proclaims pruning princess Cass Turnbull. A tireless educator, Turnbull is founder of Plant Amnesty, an organization dedicated to ending the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs.

Beacon Hill topiary enthusiast Joel Lee, subject of last week's column, doesn't need to worry about Turnbull taking him to task. "I appreciate a beautifully sheared hedge, and I even like some of the goofy stuff out there," admits Turnbull, who once carved an elementary school's boxwood hedge into a bookworm.

But "what (acclaimed folk artist) Pearl Fryar does is topiary; what his neighbors do isn't," says Turnbull flatly. (Watch "A man named Pearl" to see his FANTASTIC artwork! Crazy man! Love the obscession! MM)

Good pruning is invisible. Done right, the tree or shrub looks tidier after pruning, but still natural. Shearing, where all the branch tips are cut off in a uniform, nonselective way, has nothing to do with a plant's natural habit.

Turnbull thinks tree topping is almost always the wrong thing to do,(AGREE!! MM) shearing is only sometimes wrong. Nevertheless, she's alarmed at all the sheared shrubs and trees she's seeing around Seattle lately. Because of the recession, many untrained amateurs have started landscaping businesses, and it shows. "We've managed to put a real crimp in tree topping over the last 23 years," she says. "But shearing has gotten worse!"

So when is shearing OK? It depends on the kind of plant, and few are tough enough to hold up to such treatment. Plants with tight foliage, like boxwood, Japanese holly, pyracantha and yew are the best candidates. But often totally inappropriate plants are poodle-balled, or cut into bumps, spirals or spheres. "When the inherent beauty of a plant is compromised, it's painful for those of us who know what it should look like," Turnbull says.

Aesthetics aside, there's an arsenal of practical reasons to cease and desist with the clippers. The scariest is that shearing locks a gardener into a high-maintenance regime. Particularly on deciduous plants, shearing results in a big mess of skinny, ugly, rapidly growing water sprouts. Shearing also creates brown "dead zones" not likely to green back up, especially on conifers. It encourages disease and pest problems, and increases freeze and drought damage. To educate Seattle gardeners about the benefits of good pruning techniques, Plant Amnesty is offering low-cost classes, including ones in Spanish (see Volunteers are going door-to-door distributing information, starting in Magnolia, a neighborhood Turnbull calls the poodle-ball capital of the Northwest!!! ( in red by MMM, for my fellow Magnolia friends :) )

The good news is that plants are resilient, and most can be salvaged even after being carved into cones or caterpillars. Turnbull likens rehabilitation pruning to growing out your bangs, because it takes so much patience. The steps are pretty much thin and wait, then thin and wait some more. Plants like forsythia and spirea can take radical renovation pruning, which means cutting them to the ground to allow them to grow back into their natural shape.

Turnbull suggests hiring a coach to prune along with you, or an expert to give a private lesson while pruning in your own garden. (Plant Amnesty has a referral service; call 206-783-9813, ext. 3).

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at

Sunday, December 13, 2009

WATER? Yes, even in the winter!

I know it sounds crazy, but it it is really important to water your newly planted (this fall) plants and your containers in weather like this.

In winter, dry conditions can actually be more damaging than the cold itself. Cold winter air is usually quite dry, and winter winds can remove water from plants faster than the roots can absorb it. This is especially true for evergreens, as water evaporates quickly from their foliage. In addition, if the ground freezes, the underground water turns to ice crystals which cannot be absorbed by plant roots. Even dormant plants need and absorb water year-round.

Water acts as an insulator. Plant cells that are plump with water will be stronger against cold damage. Likewise, moist soil will tend to stay warmer than dry soil, so a regular watering schedule in dry, cold weather can help protect plants from freezing temperatures. Follow these guidelines:

  • If you experience freezing weather only occasionally, and you have had insufficient rain or snowfall, water deeply a day or so before a freeze is forecast. Be sure to water the entire root system – a good rule of thumb is to water an area the size of the plant’s drip line.
  • Be extra attentive to newly planted trees and shrubs. Not only are their roots less established, but the churned-up soil can allow cold air to penetrate deeper to the roots.
  • Water when the air temperature is above 40° F, and don’t water if there’s snow or ice on the ground.
  • Water early in the day, so the plants have time to absorb it before the temperature drops at night.
Since it is warming up today - do your plants a favor and go out this morning and water them.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chicken Run

I love keeping chickens. We have had our same four ladies for four years now. I know, I know--if I were a real farmer, they would have been transformed into a Sunday dinner long ago. I tried, but the kids won't go for it.

The problem is that you need to make the chickens pets if you actually want your kids to embrace them (literally) and the chores that go along with them. And I have to admit that I don’t really think that I could whack them. But I tried to be a good farmer and at least say that the chickens need to be sent to the big farm in the sky. They do still lay...maybe 3-5 eggs per week from March to October. They still poop and scratch and make good compost, plus they serve as my four feathered roto-tillers.

So, what do I do with my old ladies that we all love--and still make room for my three new chicks that will supply an even steadier supply of eggs? Well, I'm going to rent them out! Hens For Hire! We have outfitted a traveling dog carrier and fashioned a portable pen, so these four Clydesdales (sort of) are ready to hit the road. Have chickens will travel!

What can these four beautiful ladies do for your garden? Besides providing you with fresh eggs each week, they are great at prepping your veggie garden area for spring planting? Give me a call! You can have four busty beauties parading around your bed/s for one, or several days. I'm not jokin'!

We, my 11 year old who is trying to earn snowboarding money and I, will come and set them up at your house. You can keep them as long as you want. You just need to keep their food (we supply) and water full and click the door shut on the kennel each night and open each morning. Set up fee is $35 and it's $10 per day after 24 hours. Plus-you will get a couple of eggs out of the deal.

To eat down a garden bed that is 5' x 5' will take them 1-2 days-depending on how thick the vegetation is. In exchange they will each down your weeds and cover crop, eat bugs, scratch and thatch and poop the best fertilizer west of I-5.

So why did the chicken cross the road? To get to your house. Now that's sustainable!

Monday, March 9, 2009


I get lots and lots of questions about pruning trees and shrubs. There is no single rule for what should be pruned and when, but I just want to remind you that, in general, there are very few reasons to prune. There are so many more useful ways to spend time in the garden, so let’s talk about why you shouldn’t be spending a lot of time pruning.

First: Right plant, right place. Before you plant, carefully consider what the full size of the plant you’ve chosen will be. Plants in our area can grow to their full size in just a few years. If you already have a plant in the ground that is too big for its spot, take it out. There are so many lovely plants to choose from, there is no reason to wrestle with one that is too big for the space.

Next: When you prune a plant by topping or shaping it, what you’re really doing is stimulating its growth. Prune the top of a plant that naturally wants to grow tall and it will end up growing wide, wide, wide and thick with water shoots/suckers. It does not honor the plant and its natural beauty to try to make it conform to artificial dimensions.

Last: If you really need to prune, generally the best time to do it is just after the plant is done flowering. Cut all the way back to trunk so the wound can grow over, don't leave little stubs. Don't cut into the main bark, and for God's sake, never top your trees. Just like us, your tree or shrub needs a leader. That is the main upward branch. If it has no leader it will put all it's energy in to all the branches going sideways and send millions of water shoots/suckers out trying to fight for it's life. Then the crazy cycle of pruning begins. You fight all the growth, and like a good soldier, the plant fights for it's life and leader...

There are exceptions, of course. I’m a sucker for espalier anything. I think Bonsai is an art form, and the occasional topiary doesn’t ruffle my feathers.

On the one hand, gardening is a way to learn about and be a part of nature. But on the other hand, it is man vs. nature. My point is that pruning for the sake of size control or because you were taught that you just should…is a waste of your time. Instead you could be weeding, making compost, hauling compost, planting, deadheading, or just sitting in your garden and enjoying it...

If you want in-depth info on pruning, go to the Plant Amnesty website : or, pick up a copy of Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning – What, When, Where & How to Prune for a Beautiful Garden.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Winter cleanup

Time to clean up the slime that is left after the snow....January is a great time to clean up the garden if you didn't have time last fall. It's not unusual to have a sunny streak in January and I always take that opportunity to get some fresh air and check in with my garden. If you have lots of slimy looking plants, cut them back to the ground and add a little mulch and hope that the root is still alive and well and just waiting for warmer soil to poke it's head out.

If you dabble in marginally hardy plants for our zone--like I do--we may have lots of spots in our garden to try new plants this year. Those 20 degree temperatures are pretty unusual for us and will probably wreak havoc with our zone 8 plants. I am going to be hopeful and leave mine in the ground until spring to see if any life emerges.

I like to keep my grasses up as long as I can into the winter to enjoy the grass heads, but our recent wind storm really wreaked havoc with the beauty of those -- so I cut those back to the ground last week. Cut your grasses as far down to the ground as you can -- think of the prairie grasses that used to get burned to the ground annually. If you cut your grass higher you will get a lot of dead straw at the base of your plant next season.

As discouraging as it may be to go out into your garden and assess the damage -- it is also a time to notice those first signs of life that we always look forward to at this time of year. My Hellebores have chubby happy buds swelling and are close to popping up to greet the day. Take note of the tips of your crocus - and any other early blooming bulbs- that are marching forth. Look close at the Camellia and Hamamelis prepping for their big show. Lastly, take a few deep whiffs of the next Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' that you walk by. This has been blooming since December, weathered the storm, and is trooping on! Spend a few moments marveling at the small bit of beauty that is right in front of you.