Garden Life: Vines rise above in Northwest



The large family of vines grows to perfection in the Northwest garden, and individual vines sport distinct characteristics. My favorites include the elegant flowering wisteria, rampant climbing roses and any of the tiny-flowered, shrub clinging clematis.

Because of their ability to rise above other flowering plants in beds and borders, most stand out like prima donnas, flaunting their attributes for all to see. When they reach the peak of their individual form, they really do deserve the admiration they so often attract.

Plant a new vine in early spring so that it has time to mature over the long growing season ahead. Begin the garden season with the evergreen climber, Clematis armandii Snowdrift. One can easily find a rambling rose, climbing clematis or trailing honeysuckle to highlight the garden from summer well into fall and even early winter. Climbing plants add a vertical element to the garden, drawing the eye up from the level of perennials and shrubbery, into the realm of trees and sky.

Spring Bulbs

As wonderful as spring blooming bulbs can be in the garden, there is a side to using them successfully that leaves many gardeners dazed and confused. The difficult part is knowing in September exactly how these bulbs will fit into your garden in March. To be truly successful with bulbs in the garden, the gardener has to learn to think “out of season.”

Spring flowering bulbs must be planted in the fall because they require a period of dormancy brought on by cold temperature to stimulate root development. The warmth of spring will trigger the bulb to emerge into a flowering plant. What this means is that we have to decide now what bulbs we’d like to plant in the coming fall, to have the best spring garden a year from now.

Take a good look at the gardens you love the most. A critical view of our gardens in spring helps us know where bulbs can be planted to best effect. This is how we learn which colors of flowers harmonize, which clash, and where a splash of contrasting color is needed. Most hardy bulbs need relatively little attention during the growing season. Many will thrive for several years.

For the best flowers, it is necessary to remove weeds by hand or with a hoe as soon as growth emerges at surface level. Take care not to damage the shoots. Feeding is generally recommended for bulbs that are left in the ground for several years. Use a bulb food, raking it lightly into the soil during spring cultivation. You can also use a liquid, foliar feeder after the bulbs have bloomed and the flower heads have been cut back.

History of spring

If spring is nothing more than a date on the calendar, we can say it began this year March 20. That was the day of the vernal equinox, when we officially changed seasons from winter to spring. Translated literally, equinox means “equal night.” Far from being an arbitrary indicator, March 20, 2012, is significant for astronomical reasons. The vernal equinox is the time when the sun’s path intersects the equator.

On that day, the sun crossed directly over the Earth’s equator. We say that day and night are equal, but it actually depends on where you are located on the surface of the Earth. In the Northern Hemisphere, it happens around March 20 or 21, and marks the start of spring. As we welcome spring, people south of the equator are actually gearing up for the cooler temperatures of autumn. This brief but monumental moment owes its significance to the 23.5-degree tilt of the Earth’s axis.

Because of the tilt, we receive the sun’s rays most directly in the summer. In the winter, when we are tilted away from the sun, the rays pass through the atmosphere at a greater slant, bringing lower temperatures. If the Earth rotated on an axis perpendicular to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, there would be no variation in day lengths or temperatures throughout the year, and we would not have seasons.

People have recognized the vernal equinox for thousands of years. There is no shortage of rituals and traditions surrounding the coming of spring. Many early peoples celebrated for the basic reason that their food supplies would soon be restored. The date is significant in Christianity because Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at