The Garden Life: It's a great time to fill in the gaps in your garden

By Robb Rosser April 16, 2015 6 a.m.

I think the most rewarding job you can do in the garden is to plant the right plant in the right place. April is an ideal time to do so. I thoroughly enjoy the process of shopping for the plants I have added to my "wish list." I can hardly wait for the process of digging in the earth, planting in the garden and then watching that plant grow. For me, this is what gardening is all about.

Garden Life: Garden springing to life with colorful fervor

By Robb Rosser April 9, 2015 6 a.m.

Spring's arrival is all about abundance in the garden. Daylight lasts longer and the sun rises higher in the sky with each passing day. There is more than one hour of difference in daylight from the beginning to the end of April. Until now we have been tantalized by bits and pieces of color in the garden. A cluster of snowdrops here and a dozen crocus there. With the onset of spring, flowers begin to emerge from spring bulbs, perennials, shrubs, trees and vines.

Garden Life: Our garden is the face present to the world

By Robb Rosser April 2, 2015 6 a.m.

"Oh what a beautiful mornin'. Oh what a beautiful day, I've got a beautiful feelin', everything's going my way."

Garden Life: A detailed journal can be a gardener's best friend

By Robb Rosser March 26, 2015 6 a.m.

This would be a good time to begin making entries in a garden journal if you haven't already started one. Keep a running list of plants as you buy them. I add them to my notebook/journal by date of purchase. I know fellow gardeners who keep their journals on a computer, which allows them to view their collection in alphabetical order. Choose any method that works best for you. Think of keeping a journal as one of the simplest and most useful chores you will ever have to do.

Garden Life: Now's the time to plant roses in the garden

By Robb Rosser March 19, 2015 6 a.m.

Signs of spring fill the garden, and these in turn fill the gardener with renewed energy to get the garden year underway. If you're a Northwest gardener with a bit of garden time under your belt, you know that just because the calendar says it's spring, does not make our moody weather comply. Although it's hard to argue with the string of clear, sunny, warm days we keep having between skimpy bits of rain, prudence reminds us that there's still officially one day left of winter.

The Garden Life: Garden more enticing as days grow longer

By Robb Rosser March 12, 2015 6 a.m.

Once my thoughts turn to spring I start searching the garden for every emerging sign of the upcoming season. Established clumps of early snowdrops surprised me a month ago with their obvious vigor. One day they had barely begun to poke exploratory fingers of foliage up from the surface of the soil. A day or two later they were standing up straight, waving a cluster of bone white flowers as delicate as Tiffany lamps from delicate, arching stems.

Garden Life: Catching spring fever can feel pretty good

By Robb Rosser March 5, 2015 6 a.m.

In my youth, all references to spring fever seemed to hint at love. Nowadays, I can't seem to get my mind out of the garden. In many ways the feeling is still the same: It' a bit edgy; a kind of restlessness. This feeling is commonly associated with the onset of spring. We want something to happen but we're not quite ready for the heady pace of events once we venture into the garden.

Garden Life: Now is time to start whacking those weeds

By Robb Rosser February 26, 2015 6 a.m.

If you want to win the war against weeds, begin now. The advice I hear most often in the name of weed control is to start removing weeds as soon as they appear in the garden. Unfortunately, weeding is not our highest personal priority in early spring. Our thoughts are focused on emerging bulbs and perennials. We are in the mood to add new plants to the garden, not to grub around for old weeds.

Garden Life: Refresh your knowledge before pruning

By Robb Rosser February 19, 2015 6 a.m.

Late winter or early spring, before buds break from bare tree branches, is the time to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs. This includes fruit, flowering and shade trees. Trees have a unique healing process. Unlike our skin wounds, where skin cells regenerate to heal skin tissue, trees work to "wall off" or compartmentalize their wounds. That process of forming callus tissue forms quickly at this time of year.

The Garden Life: Winter-performing plants have limited audience

By Robb Rosser February 12, 2015 6 a.m.

Much of the plant show at this time of year is low-key, more for the gardener than for someone who is visiting the garden. This may not have been the original motive of planting for winter interest. Most gardeners who take the step of adding winter plants to the garden do so with the intention of giving visitors something to see during the bleakest time of year.

Garden Life: Use winter's starkness to be sure of yard's plan

By Robb Rosser February 5, 2015 6 a.m.

The clarity of winter brings out the skeleton of your garden. In garden design terms, the bones. Paths, walks, hedges and walls are elements that provide background and form for your planting plan and must stand on their own merits. A cedar trellis or metal sculpture may be the only vertical element standing in a winter flower border. The bare branches of a dogwood tree may be the only feature in a sea of lawn. It is part of your overall garden plan to make sure that each element has the stature to stand alone.

Garden Life: In winter, form vision for garden's future

By Robb Rosser January 29, 2015 6 a.m.

There are several times each year when a gardener should envision their garden in a completely different season. In autumn, we plan for the arrival of spring bulbs and plant them in the garden according to that vision. In spring, we often speculate on plants that will carry us into late summer. Winter is a good time to imagine what your garden might look like a full year from now. It's best to keep track of these ideas by forming a plan.

Garden Life: Consult the experts on winter pruning

By Robb Rosser January 22, 2015 6 a.m.

You can continue winter pruning deciduous shrubs and trees through January and February.

Garden Life: Take steps to protect garden from N.W. winter

By Robb Rosser January 15, 2015 6 a.m.

Few things send a chill up a gardener's spine like waking up to an unexpected winter freeze, especially if you have not yet taken all the precautions you promised to take last year after frozen rain and frigid winds overran our gardens in midwinter.

The Garden Life: Closer look reveals winter garden's splendors

By Robb Rosser January 8, 2015 6 a.m.

Sometimes in winter, I simply have to make myself stop and look before I can see what is right in front of me. We have such an abundance of evergreen plants in our landscape that we often take them for granted. We rush around with our heads held down and our eyes dulled over in a gray haze. I try to remind myself to stop for a moment and look around. When I do, I am always delighted by our Northwest winter plant palette.

Garden Life: Resolve to make resolutions to find pleasure in garden

By Robb Rosser January 1, 2015 6 a.m.

This year, instead of making the same resolutions that I've made for the past 10 years, I'm going to take a new direction. I will only make resolutions that I look forward to upholding, ones that will give me pleasure in the process.

Garden Life: Seasons bring gift of change to garden life

By Robb Rosser December 25, 2014 6 a.m.

One of the greatest gifts the garden has to offer is a seasonal reminder that change is part of life itself. The natural transition from autumn to winter begins with lowering temperatures and shifting weather patterns. The continuing consequences of wind, rain, sleet and snow have an obvious effect on the environment in which we live. Recognizing the effect these changes bring to the garden can be an eye opening experience.

Garden Life: In heart of winter, we know sun will return

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

In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the day of the year with the fewest hours of daylight. North of the Arctic Circle, there is no daylight at this time of year. The winter solstice is the day of the year when the sun is farthest south in the sky. This year that day comes on Dec. 21.

Garden Life: Use winter months to plan new area of garden

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

If you've been thinking about creating a new planting area in your garden, winter is the perfect opportunity to plan, plot and initiate that project. Wintertime 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.

Garden Life: View holiday lights as extension of garden

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

They say we become wiser with age. Whether or not that's true, it seems to me we should at least wise up enough to take advantage of life's experiences. What has me pondering this issue is the tradition of decorating our homes for the holidays. As with any home project, this one has a tendency to become much more work and time intensive than we expect it to be. Like so much else in gardening, finding the process that suits you best is often a matter of trial and error.

The Garden Life: Fall palette something to be thankful for

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

The pathways in our garden are strewn with a lovely pattern of overlapping leaves that have fallen from the trees above. Autumn leaves come in a palette of colors unique to the season. The rusty reds, burnt oranges and sun washed yellows of deciduous maple, ash and oak trees scatter under our feet as we walk through the garden on clear autumn afternoons. Take the time to shuffle your feet and cause a stir.

Garden Life: Get a jump on preparing garden for winter

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

I appreciate the fact that daylight savings time starts later than it did a few years ago and will end earlier than it did in the past. Still, the day that the time change went into effect this year brought with it a sense of apprehension. Wait, whoa, hold on. Did the afternoon sun really set before five o'clock in the afternoon? With the time change comes a temporal disturbance and a distinct awareness of the imminent arrival of winter.

The Garden Life: Knowledge always grows for perennial novice

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

In my transition from expansive country gardens to a simpler townhouse lifestyle, I finally found the time to bring a dozen or more boxes of garden books upstairs to my new office space. Just as it is in the garden, one home project leads to another so moving books from boxes to bookshelf was cut short by the discovery of 20-plus years of garden journals. I was surprised to see that I have been gardening in the Northwest for 2½ decades.

Garden Life: You've got to get hands dirty to be a gardener

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

The best way to learn anything, including how to garden, is by doing. You can study and read and go to lectures but at some point you have to get your hands dirty to become a gardener. Modern technology puts information at our fingertips but the masters of any craft still learn the ropes by actually doing what they do so well. Concert pianists play the piano. Painters put paint to canvas. Gardeners garden.

Garden Life: Mistakes vital to a gardener's learning process

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

In a perfect world, a gardener would never buy a plant unless he or she knew exactly where it should be placed in the garden. The right plant in the right place is one criterion for a successful garden. But I live in the real world and know that making mistakes is equally important in the learning process of every gardener.

Garden Life: Shrubs, grasses bring special definition to garden

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

Used individually, shrubs can stand as specimen plants in every season. Camellia sasanqua "Yuletide," with its Christmas red flower petals, yellow anthers and dark green, glossy leaves, will bloom from November through January in a mild year. Late winter brings out the petite blooms of many species of sweetly fragrant sarcococca or Winter Box. In early spring viburnums such as Korean Spice fill the air with their piquant scent.

Garden Life: In fall, tidy away the debris and prepare for spring

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

Fall is a period of transition for the garden and the gardener. As a part of my personal shift from landscaped acreage to potted patio, I made it through the entire summer with nary a mandatory garden chore. Oh yes, I did water my planters on hot sunny days and I occasionally trimmed back the miniature ivy hanging over the sides of my ceramic pots, but that was simply to avoid going stir-crazy.

The Garden Life: In autumn, focus is on leaf color, plant silhouette

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

I think of autumn as the grand finale of a long, ever-changing performance in the Northwest garden. For the gardener, especially those of us with a bent for collecting, this prelude to winter can be an embarrassment of riches. The vast selection of trees and shrubs available to us is one of our biggest challenges.

The Garden Life: Spring isn't only time to have flowers in bloom

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

Gardeners are used to the delayed gratification of planting bulbs. As we plant in the fall, we imagine the future pastel tulips and fragrant daffodils that will emerge from these spring-blooming bulbs. They go into the ground now as little more than plain, ovoid brown paper packages. It will be in March, April and even May before we enjoy the fruits of our autumnal labors.

The Garden Life: Find balance between planning, impetuousness

By Robb Rosser September 25, 2014 6 a.m.

Pay attention to the most beautiful gardens in your own neighborhood and you will see that it's often the shrubs that carry the garden seamlessly through the year. Regardless of the season, shrubs contour and outline garden spaces and give a sense of privacy and enclosure. Many shrubs use the color of their flowers to bring a garden vignette to life. A red-hot rhododendron looks great against a creamy yellow house wall. The clear salmon pink blossoms of the flowering quince Chaenomeles x superba "Cameo" are elegant trained on a copper trellis.

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.