The Garden Life: Transplanting can help transform your garden

By Robb Rosser September 18, 2014 6 a.m.

The approach of autumn signals considerable changes in the well-planned garden. This is when the foliage of trees, shrubs and many perennials take on the color shades of the season. Rusty red and pumpkin orange, burnished bronze and the faded gold of ornamental grasses. As gardeners, we have chosen fall foliage plants carefully in seasons past and quite often in years gone by. As time passes in the garden, we sometimes find that a tree or shrub we selected for specific characteristics is not living up to its potential. This is the perfect time of year to transplant the right plant to the right place in the garden.

The Garden Life: Now is good time to find plants at bargain prices

By Robb Rosser September 11, 2014 6 a.m.

Beginning in mid-September, around the time of year that many consider the end of the growing season, most nurseries and retail garden stores put a large selection of plants on sale. If you have coveted a specific perennial or specimen plant but hesitated to buy because of the cost, there's a good chance the price will be marked down considerably in the coming weeks. The trick is to shop late enough for good sale prices and early enough for a worthwhile selection of plants.

The Garden Life: Change of seasons a time for planting

By Robb Rosser September 4, 2014 6 a.m.

As summer begins to take its leave and autumn stands waiting in the wings, we feel an urge to redirect our garden energies. This change of season signals a shift in our focus from the daily maintenance of watering, deadheading and mowing lawns to preparation for fall planting and the inevitable arrival of winter. Inherent in the transition from one season to the next, betwixt and between, is the desire to go forward.

The Garden Life: Naming garden areas can bring focus to design

By Robb Rosser August 28, 2014 6 a.m.

For me, part of the creative process of gardening is to give names to beds, borders and other areas of the garden. A name helps me to focus on an idea and to eventually create a small reality from an internal image. Years ago, I began to call my old garden "Scout's Run" in honor of our noble collie dog, Scout. It has been many years now since Scout passed on and a couple more since he actually ran through the garden. Still, to the end of my residence there his spirit pervaded every morning garden walk.

Garden Life: Maintenance of planters, lawn vital in late summer

By Robb Rosser August 21, 2014 6 a.m.

Just as we need hydration in the hottest days of summer, all container plants need special attention in hot, dry weather. This is especially true at the end of summer after the planters have given us months of color performance. Most important is to assure each container enough water to keep the soil moist to within an inch of ground level. This may mean daily watering if temperatures stay high, especially any planters fully exposed to the elements.

The Garden Life: Foundational plants key to year-round beauty

By Robb Rosser August 14, 2014 6 a.m.

In the last few weeks, I've had the pleasure of visiting a few neighborhoods new to me in the Vancouver area. I see a common thread in the most intriguing local gardens. The key element that draws my interest is the use of a distinct mix of trees, shrubs, vines and other woody plants to provide a solid, year-round framework.

The Garden Life: Change is inevitable, in the garden and in life

By Robb Rosser August 7, 2014 6 a.m.

I have taken a leap and made the move from Scout's Run, my garden home of 24 years. My new garden space is a small patio nestled in front of a modest townhouse. Caught up in the whirlwind of moving, the month of July raced by as I tried my best to keep the garden well watered, weeds pulled and flowers deadheaded despite the fact that I had little time or mind for anything but planning and packing for the move of a lifetime.

The Garden Life: Iris should be divided to keep them looking stately

By Robb Rosser July 31, 2014 6 a.m.

Gardeners love the stately iris, immortalized in the classic design of the "fleur de lis." The distinct shape of the flower is used in garden ornament all over the world. The Japanese and bearded irises are two of the most popular garden forms. After flowering, if the rhizomes have stopped producing abundant flowers and have become congested, it's time to divide and replant border irises. Before you take the iris out of the ground, have a good look at the planting depth of those irises that bloomed best in your garden.

Garden Life: Control the urge to add every new plant that captures your fancy

By Robb Rosser July 24, 2014 6 a.m.

Along with our gardening enthusiasm, visitors to Southwest Washington are impressed by the vigor and bounty of our plant collections. Few places in the world are blessed with an environment in which so many types of plants grow and thrive. The nursery industry acknowledges our interest in an ever expanding plant palette and fans our desire by producing more and better varieties of plants with longer bloom and more striking foliage.

The Garden Life: Working with nature helps enrich your gardening vision

By Robb Rosser July 17, 2014 6 a.m.

I spent some time last week with a group of gardening friends. We talked about a million and one things, all concerning the act of gardening. What I found fascinating about the conversation was that we all love to garden but each person had a different slant on the topic of working in the garden.

The Garden Life: Summer in full bloom in gardens

By Robb Rosser July 10, 2014 6 a.m.

July arrived with a welcome blast of blazing hot sunshine. I am rarely thrilled to have to water pots and planters but this sustained period of bright sunlight is worth that necessary chore. From the look of things, the trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals are equally excited about the return of warm weather. I cannot remember seeing the plants in my garden take such a dramatic leap in foliage and flower production in such a short span of time. Finally, we can welcome summer to the garden.

The Garden Life: Natural gardening practices more sustainable

By Robb Rosser July 3, 2014 6 a.m.

For many who garden, the concept of gardening naturally, holistically or organically is one of our greatest challenges. Each new generation approaches the issues of the modern world from a unique view point. While some long time gardeners feel intimidated by the idea of eliminating all non-organic techniques, those who begin gardening in today's world will likely feel that the use of sustainable gardening practices is the best choice they can make.

The Garden Life: Garden is no place for a perfectionist

By Robb Rosser June 26, 2014 6 a.m.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that a perfectionist should not be a gardener. Gardening might drive a perfectionist mad, even if he or she had a team of hired help doing all the weeding, pruning and hoeing. Even if a garden is nothing more than formal clipped boxwood and crushed gravel pathways, we still have to contend with moles and blowing autumn leaves and moss. If you can't see the beauty in a lush carpet of emerald green moss, how will you handle patches of dead lawn at the foot of a Douglas fir tree?

The Garden Life: Balance planning, spontaneity with garden tasks

By Robb Rosser June 19, 2014 6 a.m.

At this time of year, as spring becomes summer, we find ourselves with an endless list of garden chores. There's always the need to deadhead spent flowering plants and to fertilize perennials and roses. All healthy plant material removed from the garden can be added to the compost pile. Broadleaf evergreen shrubs will appreciate a shot of fertilizer as soon as they are finished flowering for the season. Here in Southwest Washington, there are products specifically made for the nutrient requirements of our acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, and rhododendron.

The Garden Life: Don't be afraid to explore evolving interests

By Robb Rosser June 12, 2014 6 a.m.

So many plants, so little time and only one garden; what a dilemma. There was a time when I thought that my garden would one day be filled to the brim with plants and I would be finished adding new ones. That was before the plant propagators started every garden year with a catalog featuring half a dozen new cultivars of every shrub, tree and perennial. It's likely I might never be finished.

Garden Life: State of perfection in the garden is elusive

By Robb Rosser June 5, 2014 6 a.m.

These days, perfection has become the catch word to describe the least we should expect of ourselves. TV and magazines tout the perfect house, car, bottled water and, yes, the perfect life. As if that's not enough, gardeners are bombarded with the concept of perfection in the garden. It's as if the measure of your landscaping is nothing if it's not comparable to a Hollywood movie set.

The Garden Life: Pots, planters complement garden

By Robb Rosser May 29, 2014 6 a.m.

The scent of summer lilies is so persistent that I was once accused of smelling like Tom Pouce when I returned home after an evening stroll through a garden. In case you're wondering, Lilium "Tom Pouce" has large, fragrant rose-pink flowers with a lemon-yellow stripe. Tom blooms late in the lily season and is named for the Dutch pastry with pink icing on top and a butter cream filling. There is nothing comparable to the scent of oriental lilies but I'm still flattered by that delectable comparison.

The Garden Life: Work is never done in ever-changing garden

By Robb Rosser May 21, 2014 6 a.m.

Gardening is not a static endeavor. The plant material we work with is changing even as we shape the direction of its growth. We mow our lawn with the expectation that it will immediately begin to grow again. When we put a tree in the ground, our work is just beginning. All new plants need water, fresh air, sunlight and nutrition to flourish. It is part of the gardener's job to see that our plants get what they need

The garden Life: Month of May may be gardeners’ busiest

By Robb Rosser May 15, 2014 11:25 a.m.

Every year, the month of May arrives like a long-lost friend who has come to pay a visit. We are excited by their arrival but thrown a bit off-balance by the amount of baggage they have in tow. It’s wonderful to renew the friendship but it appears that this guest is here for an extended stay. All of a sudden we have to pick up the pace just to stay in place.

The Garden Life: Midspring garden bursting with temptations

By Robb Rosser May 8, 2014 6 a.m.

May arrives as a succession of perfect springtime moments. The month brings with it a flood of sunlight to illuminate the new growth of trees and shrubs and emerging perennials. Every new day brings back forgotten pleasures. The warmth of the sun, the scent of new-mown grass, and the color of the sky all come together in the midspring garden. For these, and a hundred other reasons, we continue to plant new plants in our gardens.

The Garden Life: Take garden into the warm embrace of spring

By Robb Rosser May 1, 2014 6 a.m.

Once again, with the help of my garden writers' group, I took a look back to the spring of 2004. What I remember most about that time was the impact that maturity had on the look of my garden. I had been in my house for more than 10 years and the plants I added to the garden were finally showing the stature of mature trees, shrubs, groundcovers and perennials. The picture I envisioned was coming into focus and spring held me firmly in its grasp.

Garden Life: April the perfect time for adding plants to garden

By Robb Rosser April 24, 2014 6 a.m.

Perennials are plants that return to our gardens each year for a period of three or more years. Perennials endure, often recovering from a winter completely hidden beneath the soil. Some manage to hold on to a structure of leaf, branch or stem throughout the winter. When spring comes, trim away tattered foliage. Certain plants, such as the leafy epimedium and many ornamental grasses, respond to cutting back all spent foliage. New growth emerges fresh and vibrant.

Garden Life: Becoming gardener requires transformation

By Robb Rosser April 17, 2014 6 a.m.

For most of us, gardening is not the daily work we do that puts money in our pockets. When someone asks us what we do, they are usually looking for a job title to attach to our persona. Most of us "work for a living" but we "become gardeners" before or after work or on the weekends. It's interesting that during the time we spend working in the garden, the word work takes on a different meaning. In this case, we lose any feeling of drudgery and put our whole heart into the effort.

The Garden Life: Heucheras offer gardeners array of colors, choices

By Robb Rosser April 10, 2014 6 a.m.

Ready or not, a host of new perennials have stormed the garden world and are vying with the old standbys for our attention. If you're like me, you came into the spring season with a list of plants to add to the new spring garden. Since heucheras have done so well in my garden in the past, I've been looking forward to adding a few more selections to this year's garden. With the proliferation of new plant material on the market, I'm beginning to doubt my own ability to keep up with a burgeoning supply of new introductions. Then again, I rarely balk at such an intriguing challenge.

The Garden Life: N.W. weather gives gardens what they need

By Robb Rosser April 3, 2014 6 a.m.

I had a chance to join a group of local writers in the past few months. It was fascinating to spend time in a group with the singular desire to share ideas through writing. Yet, every one of us had a different approach to bringing our personal work to life. Although I have been sharing my daily exploits in the garden with The Columbian readers for 14 years now, it is rare for me to sit face to face with other writers as they read through some of my favorite garden columns from the past.

The Garden Life: Spring-flowering plants offer lots of variety

By Robb Rosser March 27, 2014 6 a.m.

March, April and May are the months when most spring-flowering bulbs appear. The large narcissus group flowers from early to midspring. Most of the bright yellow, cream, orange and salmon narcissi with large trumpets are commonly called daffodils. They can be left undisturbed for many years in perennial borders or naturalized in grassy areas. King Alfred stands straight and regal in the garden bed, head and shoulders above the other daffodils.

The Garden Life: Spring is here, but don't plant just yet

By Robb Rosser March 20, 2014 6 a.m.

Mid-March heralds spring's arrival and the perfect time to begin planting. Nurseries, home improvement centers and even the local grocery stores are bringing new plants in every day to add to our early spring gardens. In past years we had to worry about muddy soil or partially frozen ground this early in the season. Recent temperatures have been hovering around 50 degrees. On a day when the air temperature is above freezing and the soil is workable, we can begin to plant hardy ornamentals, roses, vines, trees and shrubs.

The Garden Life: Garden shows present world of possibilities

By Robb Rosser March 13, 2014 6 a.m.

I come into the month of March spellbound, once again. In February, three of the largest garden-oriented events in the Pacific Northwest drew capacity crowds by conjuring up spring from the remnants of late winter. Daffodils, tulips and alliums bloomed weeks ahead of schedule. Bare-branched cherry trees and late-season magnolias broke into full flower. Who wouldn't be bewitched by the heady scent of Winter Daphne heralding the arrival of spring?

The Garden Life: Now is the time to plan for next spring's bulbs

By Robb Rosser March 6, 2014 6 a.m.

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. All bulbs are essentially easy to grow. Planted in mid- to late autumn, they bloom right on schedule without any further effort on the part of the gardener. However, the challenge is to plan ahead now for planting in September. This is the key to creating the garden you've been dreaming of when spring returns in March.

The Garden Life: Evergreens bring intriguing shapes to garden

By Robb Rosser February 27, 2014 6 a.m.

When it comes to choosing plants for the winter garden, nothing lends texture, volume and visual depth to a planting design than evergreens. Winter is the time of year to evaluate the garden and decide if and where an evergreen can add interest to the season. Conifers are cone-bearing trees and shrubs including pine, fir and spruce. Rhododendron and winter-hardy cotoneaster are classic Northwest evergreen shrubs and make good all-season groundcovers for large garden spaces. Multiple evergreen trees form excellent living walls and backdrops for a large garden.

The Garden Life: Journal helps keep track of garden chores

By Robb Rosser February 20, 2014 6 a.m.

Mid-February to early March is the time to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs including fruit, flowering and shade trees. As always, I remind you not to prune any spring-blooming plants at this time. If you do, you will be removing this year's flowers. Spring bloomers flower early in the season and include shrubs such as quince, forsythia and spirea. They flower on the previous year's growth.

The Garden Life: Appeal of roses is difficult for gardeners to resist

By Robb Rosser February 13, 2014 6 a.m.

Northwest gardeners love to grow roses. This is not to say we don't curse their faults as vehemently as we praise their attributes. Gardeners know from experience what a "pain in the garden" roses can be. I have made numerous pronouncements that I will never plant another rose in my garden, and I have removed any roses that do not thrive on low maintenance.

The Garden Life: Try not to spring into blooming season too early

By Robb Rosser February 6, 2014 6 a.m.

Spring will soon be in the air and the Northwest gardener needs no further encouragement to begin another season of gardening. Soon, primroses, pansies, daffodils and tulips in six packs, 4-inch pots or 1-gallon containers will fill the tables outside the entry door of every nursery in town. More plants arrive every day. There will be pots of herbaceous perennials including cranesbill geraniums and candy tuft (Iberis sempervirens). Today, I eye-balled a common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), which will one day flaunt heavenly scented flower clusters in purple, pink and white.

The Garden Life: Learn to work with our temperate climate

By Robb Rosser January 30, 2014 6 a.m.

We know we are well into winter once we have encountered bouts of freezing temperatures, spells of cold wind and a few days of rising temperatures that are warmer than it should be for this time of year. These weather variations are typical of the Northwest winter. Keep in mind that winter is not over just because we had a few days of sunshine. It will be back and hopefully our gardens will remain in a suspended state of dormancy for the rest of the winter season.

The Gardening Life: Witch hazel casts colorful spell in the winter

By Robb Rosser January 23, 2014 6 a.m.

Longing for the end of winter in January makes no more sense than wishing for a summer snowfall in July.

The Garden Life: There are many ways to care for winter garden

By Robb Rosser January 16, 2014 6 a.m.

There are many different theories on winter garden maintenance. Some insist on cleaning up the garden in late fall as prevention from pests and disease. Many cannot abide the messy look of spent perennials. Others argue that we allow nature to take its course when perennial plants enter dormancy for the season. This encourages birds and beneficial insects to visit the garden. Any method will get your garden through winter as long as you do what needs to be done before spring.

The Garden Life: Cultivating deep appreciation for evergreens

By Robb Rosser January 9, 2014 6 a.m.

Winter does not have to be a time of discontent in the garden. I'm not suggesting that we can eliminate the often dreary signs of winter weather such as low gray skies, faded sunlight and falling temperatures. I do, however, believe that part of the gardening process for every gardener is to learn to bring out the best in your personal winter landscape. Plants can make the difference.

The Garden Life: Resolve to rethink what your garden's personality can be

By Robb Rosser January 2, 2014 6 a.m.

Making a list of garden resolutions should be considered a flexible endeavor, somewhat like predicting next year's winter weather in spring. Gardening is a combination of science and art. We work within a definite framework of rules, but we must always be open to the spontaneous whim of the creative spirit. I might be willing to make a resolution to keep my garden weed free but it would have to include the provision that wild daisies are not considered weeds.

The Garden Life: After winter solstice, each day brings more light

By Robb Rosser December 26, 2013 6 a.m.

In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day of the year when the sun is farthest south in the sky. This year that day came on December 21. Although we have a tendency to be less than specific about the exact onset of seasons in the Pacific Northwest, the winter solstice marks the first day of the winter season. The defining point of this day is that it signals the shortest daylight period of the year, in the sense that the length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset on this day is a minimum for the year.

The Garden Life: If you envision it, it will grow: Plan now for spring

By Robb Rosser December 19, 2013 6 a.m.

If you've been thinking about creating a new planting area in your garden, now is the perfect window of opportunity to plan, plot and initiate that project. Our current state of winter is a sort of limbo; a window between the florid metamorphosis of autumn and the tumultuous rebirth of the spring garden. The bare bones of winter allow us a blank page on which to envision our ideas.

The Garden Life: Latin names worth the time when gardening

By Robb Rosser December 12, 2013 6 a.m.

Many gardeners will admit that Latin is the blind spot in their garden education. Most think that the process is something like learning a whole new language. Believe me; you do not have to learn to speak Latin to use it in the garden. It is, at first, Greek to most of us, but Latin names are not used to confuse you. Quite simply, the scientific names are more precise than the common names. This is the purpose of giving plants a Latin name in the first place.

Garden Life: Not all gardening activities have to be outdoors

By Robb Rosser December 5, 2013 6 a.m.

Gardening combines the art of imagining with the act of doing. It's about having a dream and then looking forward to the results of your efforts to see that dream come true. I say all this but I still turn around and go back inside the house when the weather is just too cold and too wet. Early sunsets and the drop in evening temperatures are equally effective at driving me back indoors where it's warm and cozy.

The Garden Life: Gardens offer much to be thankful for

By Robb Rosser November 28, 2013 6 a.m.

Even the sound of the word, Thanksgiving, appeals to me. My penchant for searching the dictionary to help me understand the true meaning of a word leads me to the following definitions. Thanksgiving: 1. the act of giving thanks; grateful acknowledgment of benefits or favors, especially to God; 2. an expression of thanks, especially to God; 3. a public celebration in acknowledgment of divine favor or kindness.

The Garden Life: Get garden prepared before winter's cold sets in

By Robb Rosser November 21, 2013 6 a.m.

Yesterday was glorious; today is bleak. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. The autumn season in the Northwest is unlike any other in the country. While parts of America are having a heat wave and others are dealing with a 50-degree weather drop, our fall season is long, variable and comparably mild. Without a calendar, it would be hard to tell where autumn ends and winter begins.

The Garden Life: Find your different points of seasonal interest

By Robb Rosser November 14, 2013 6 a.m.

While some gardeners are closing up their gardens for the winter, many continue to add plants to the garden, especially those collected in late summer and autumn. There is no limit to the recommendations from fellow gardeners but at this time of year, references should be limited to hardy trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and groundcovers. When you include spring-blooming bulbs that we plant now for next year, the list includes any plants that are hardy to the climate zones in your area.

The Garden Life: Be thankful for the bounty of autumn colors

By Robb Rosser November 7, 2013 6 a.m.

When we picture the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, most of us conjure up an image filled with all the colors of autumn. Even as the temperature of the days changes from cool to crisp to cold, it's the medley of warm color tones that hold sway in our thoughts. There's orange, of course, like that of pumpkins, acorn squash and Mexican sunflowers. After that come shades of color emblematic of the autumn season; brick red, golden mustard and aubergine.

The Garden Life: Narcissus bulbs are easy to fall in love with

By Robb Rosser October 31, 2013 6 a.m.

Daffodil and narcissus both refer to the many cultivated and natural forms of the genus Narcissus. Narcissus is the Latin or botanical name for all daffodils. Daffodil is the common name for all plants from the Latin genus Narcissus.

The Garden Life: Mother Nature can be a creative garden assistant

By Robb Rosser October 24, 2013 6 a.m.

One key to creating a garden is thoughtful planning. Another key is the willingness to change your perspective. Both of these ideas work best when we allow Mother Nature to have an equal say in the results of our creation. This is why we might buy a certain plant, such as the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) for its brick red autumn leaf color and find, in time, that the autumn show does not live up to your expectations. You could accept the results of your planting plan and be satisfied with the tree's lovely exfoliating bark and attractive winter silhouette.

The Garden Life: Make sure grass you plant will thrive in N.W.

By Robb Rosser October 17, 2013 6 a.m.

Autumn is one of the most beautiful times of year in the Northwest garden. Summer is a thing of the past and winter will be here before we know it. Fall color spreads through the trees, shrubs and deciduous vines, illuminating rain-filled skies with the light of brightly colored foliage. Other cities in other parts of the country turn brown with the onset of colder weather. Our gardens take on the lush, deep color tones of a temperate, maritime climate.

The Garden Life: Individual choices help to set a garden apart

By Robb Rosser October 10, 2013 6 a.m.

Over time, every garden develops its own character, and with that comes a unique way of welcoming each new season. If every gardener on the block planted the exact same daffodil, that plant would signal the arrival of spring to all of our gardens. It is much more likely that every neighbor will plant a different palette of spring bulbs, summer perennials and fall-foliage plants. This allows us all to have an individual display of seasonal highlights.