Planting combinations can yield pleasant surprises

By Robb Rosser October 3, 2013 6 a.m.

This is one of those special times of the day that I'd like to share with a fellow gardener. By that, I mean more than planting, hoeing, digging and maintenance — someone who understands how I feel about gardening. I always think of you when the seasons change.

The Garden Life: A note of grace and charm for the fall garden

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

In my garden, the Japanese anemones continue their long season of bloom in the established perennial borders. Their appearance coincides with the shorter days and cooler temperatures of fall. Like their fellow late-season compatriots, the rudbeckias and echinaceas, they continue through the autumn season and have been known to meet the arrival of the winter months while still in flower.

The Garden Life: Adjust garden chores to suit change of seasons

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

The surest sign of summer giving way to fall is a feeling of change in the air. The calendar shows that we are only days away from the autumnal equinox but as I write, the noon day sun is as warm as any day in August this year. As gardeners, we're the first to feel that subtle temperature drop each evening as the sun begins to set. For us, it's like having a sixth sense.

The Garden Life: Autumn perfect time to bring spice to garden

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

Autumn introduces the grand finale in a succession of seasonal floral performances in the Northwest garden. For the gardener who collects plants with an eye on seasonal interest, the next three months offer the perfect opportunity to add the unique spice of autumn to your garden. The number of trees, shrubs and perennials that shine from September to November can be a major challenge. We want this extra season of plant interest but most of us have to fit a selection of fall plants into an already abundant garden.

The Garden Life: Find time to relax, appreciate accomplishments

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

What could be more wonderful than a late summer day with just a little work to do in the garden? I'm talking about a day when all the beds are weeded, the perennial flowers are deadheaded and anything that has been planted recently has been watered deeply enough to go a day or two without additional water.

The Garden Life: Gardeners wise to follow natural calendar

By Robb Rosser August 22, 2013 6 a.m.

The period of summer that we are going through right now is one of the shortest seasons in the natural calendar. This is a season of quick changes, not as dramatic as the changes of autumn, but distinct from the long, hot days of summer, with moderately warm, "al fresco" evenings. I can already feel the onset of clear, cool nights when I stay out late in the garden. Yesterday. I woke up to a fine mist and tomorrow they predict rain.

Garden Life: Zone maps promote good garden decisions

By Robb Rosser August 15, 2013 6 a.m.

These long, last summer days are beginning to pass by quickly. To make your garden minutes count, get in the habit of harvesting vegetables and herbs as a part of your evening meal preparation. A patch of garlic chives will season family meals with a heady bite and continue in the garden for many years. A few freshly picked sugar snap peas, a sprig of parsley and a handful of strawberries will not only enhance your meal but give you one more chance to putter around in the garden.

Garden Life: Avoid temptation to overwater your garden

By Robb Rosser August 8, 2013 6 a.m.

By this time every year, there are a few plants in my garden showing signs of stress from consecutive days of direct sunshine, high temperatures and from lack of rain. In the past, I worried so much about my plants that I would spend whole days dragging a hose around the garden to stave off drought. Nowadays, to keep my garden looking its best, I continue to water through the summer months but I make an effort not to overwater. By that I mean that I give my planting beds and flowering borders enough water to thrive in the summer months but not so much that the plants have to rely on an unnatural water supply to merely survive.

The Garden Life: Gardeners love cultivating plants – and ideas

By Robb Rosser August 1, 2013 6 a.m.

As I prepare for my imminent departure from my garden at Scout's Run, I have been reminiscing about the time of my life spent here. I gathered all of my old garden journals together and I find that opening any one of them to any page brings back such fond memories of a life well spent.

Garden Life: Take risk, expand your garden's color palette

By Robb Rosser July 25, 2013 6 a.m.

Don't get stuck in the notion that you have to plant the same flower colors every year because it has worked for you in the past. Being safe all the time in color and plant selection limits your opportunities. Be a pioneer and venture out on your own. Taking chances has opened the door to some of the best, most surprising color combinations in my own garden. I never knew how cheerful I found the combination of pink and yellow until my "Moonbeam" coreopsis bloomed at the foot of the daylily "Minnie Pearl."

The Garden Life: Long summer days lure gardeners into yards

By Robb Rosser July 18, 2013 6 a.m.

For many gardeners, these days of summer sunshine draw us out in the garden more than any other time of year. The workload remains steady and deadheading is one element of a productive yet tidy garden. I have to admit that my efforts to control abundant plant growth and keep everything within bounds can be downright exasperating. Fortunately, summer days are long and warm, and by late afternoon there's no place I'd rather spend my time.

Garden Life: Midsummer is time to take stock

By Robb Rosser July 11, 2013 6 a.m.

The forecast calls for days of sunshine and drought. Technically, it's time to water, not plant. This is particularly true if you want to plant in an area of the garden that is fully exposed to the midday sun. If you have read my advice in the past, you know that I don't always follow these common sense rules of thumb. A guideline is a practical principle that is based on another's experience. They are often but not always valid.

The Garden Life: Remember, the garden is a place of rest

By Robb Rosser July 4, 2013 6 a.m.

I can hardly remember the last time I really had nothing to do in the garden. I'm talking about a day when all the beds have been weeded, pruning and deadheading flowers has been done and anything that has been planted recently has been watered deeply enough to go a day or two without additional water. Once in a while we need to coast and do nothing in our own gardens even if there is something to do.

Garden Life: Journal helps gardeners keep track of 'wish list' plants

By Robb Rosser June 27, 2013 6 a.m.

I have to admit that I can be fickle when it comes to new plant introductions. Every year, every season and sometimes every month, I have my favorite plants. I keep an ever-expanding list of plants I long to own in the back of my garden journal. The actual journal of garden events, monthly tasks and plants in bloom begins at the front. For no other reason than "it works for me," I start my plant list from the very last page, working my way from the back to the front.

Garden Life: Rain or shine, summer chores must be done

By Robb Rosser June 20, 2013 6 a.m.

This is the time of year when spring is supposed to become summer. A week ago, the weather outside my writing room window belied this forecast. It was cold and raining and the sky was an ashen gray. However, the entire garden stood out beautifully against the elements. My hostas were especially beautiful with their expansive, textural leaf surfaces washed clean by fresh rain. The chartreuse foliage of the full moon maple fairly glowed against the backdrop of overcast skies.

The Garden Life: Turn to flower power to fill gaps in your garden

By Robb Rosser June 13, 2013 6 a.m.

Many gardens are at their peak of flower bloom in the month of June. This is the time of year when every nursery and garden center across the land draws us in with sheer flower power. With a bit of effort and some good advice from fellow gardeners, even the beginning gardener can have a blooming perennial border in one weekend. For those of us with a compulsion to collect plants, summer is the heyday of our gardening year.

Garden Life: Gardener's joy earned through toil, rain

By Robb Rosser June 6, 2013 6 a.m.

Every day, I ask myself if it's going to continue raining.

Garden Life: Four lively seasons should be gardener's goal

By Robb Rosser May 30, 2013 6 a.m.

Because I keep a garden journal, I'm often reminded of certain garden principles and personal garden tenets that I might forget over time. For example, in the beginning of May I looked back through journal entries from past springs and find this entry.

Garden Life: Trimming can revitalize rhododendrons

By Robb Rosser May 23, 2013 6 a.m.

Instead of tearing out that overgrown rhododendron, this may be the year to practice your pruning techniques. Established rhododendrons can be quite lovely plants, especially when trained as a small tree. Take the time to limb branches from the bottom up. Limbing simply refers to cutting the branches off with a pruning saw where they connect to the trunk or another main branch. Thin out higher branches for an open, airy look.

Garden Life: Garden benefits from regular maintenance

By Robb Rosser May 16, 2013 6 a.m.

Every year there comes a point in time when we find ourselves juggling an endless list of garden chores. Mine seems to have come early this year. As the growing season kicks in, there's always the need to deadhead spent flowers, fertilize perennials and roses and fill gaps in planting borders with annual bedding plants.

Garden Life: Perennials make welcome springtime return

By Robb Rosser May 9, 2013 6 a.m.

I woke up to sunlight this morning. What a joy it is to feel the sun on your face as you step out into the garden. It's May and it's springtime and my garden is alive with activity. I could hear the bees humming as I began my garden walk this morning. They swarm the shrubby, floriferous Mediterranean heathers. They hang onto azalea blossoms and make the twiggy branches arch and sway under their weight. They rise up slowly and then buzz off to search for more May flowers.

Garden Life: Plant sales in full bloom locally in spring

By Robb Rosser May 2, 2013 6 a.m.

May certainly seems like the busiest time of year in the garden. All of a sudden, the once-dormant lawn needs regular mowing. Letting it go another week is no longer an option. Weeds that were nonexistent two weeks ago are now ready to set seed. The rhododendron began to bloom a couple of weeks ago. Within the next couple of weeks, we need to remove its sticky, spent flower heads. At this time of year, one garden chore leads to another.

Garden Life: Prune your plants with purpose

By Robb Rosser April 25, 2013 6 a.m.

The key to understanding how to prune is to answer the question, "What is the purpose for pruning this particular plant?" The most effective reasons for pruning are to help establish the shape of a plant along its natural lines; to improve flower or fruit production; to control the time of bloom, as in pinching back chrysanthemums, and for espalier and hedge shaping. These are all methods of seasonal pruning that enhance a plant's best qualities.

Garden Life: Study garden before spring has sprung

By Robb Rosser April 18, 2013 6 a.m.

Everywhere I go, there is talk of spring, yet I find myself inside looking out more than outside working in the garden. If I remember correctly, I've employed this approach to the season before, reveling in the rites of spring while putting off the task of daily garden maintenance. I know what I have to do and I will ultimately do the work that needs to be done. Just give me a few more days to get started.

The Garden Life: Signs of spring's emergence begin to blossom

By Robb Rosser April 4, 2013 6 a.m.

I can never say exactly what stirs my emotional awakening to spring each year. It seems to be something different from year to year. I do know that it's more than just a date on the calendar. It's a feeling I cannot shake, a sense that something I've been hoping for is within my grasp. I'm not the only one who feels this way. All of my gardening friends have a certain glow about them, as if they have come upon a secret windfall.

Garden Life: Planting too early can lead to disappointment

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

If your intention is to plant annuals or annual seeds directly in the garden, remember that those put out a few weeks later in the season often overtake the ones planted earlier. This is simply because they are less likely to receive a weather check to their growth. One of the most common causes of disappointment for novice gardeners is sowing or planting too early in spring. I know many gardeners who lost their first planting to a late frost and had to replant once temperatures warmed for the season.

Garden Life: Let the editing of your garden begin

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

Sometimes I look at garden chores as if I'm editing a story. My garden is a visual rendering of an idea I would like to share. If I want to hold on to a certain image or style of garden, I need to do a set of chores to keep that image intact. So I edit the garden by tweaking it back into shape. Mowing a lawn is one simple example. Pruning roses is another. Removing the earliest weeds is also a first step in preparing the garden for spring.

Garden Life: For hardy specimens, planting season has arrived

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

By mid-March my fingers are itching to get in the soil and so are the plants I've collected over the last month or two in preparation for spring planting. Unless your garden soil is cold, wet and muddy, this can be the perfect time to begin planting. Nurseries, home improvement centers and even the local markets are bringing in new plants every day for us to add to our early spring beds and borders. On a day when the air temperature is above freezing and the soil is workable, we can begin to plant hardy ornamentals, potted roses, vines, trees and shrubs.

Garden Life: New garden fertile ground for imagination

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

My head is in the clouds and my knees are weak. It must be spring. It all started when I walked into a local nursery and saw the long tables filled with colorful, spring-blooming plants. There were primroses and tulips in four-inch pots. There were gallon-sized perennial crested irises and a selection of shrubs, including the fragrant, variegated daphne. I could smell the hyacinth before I saw them on the shelves.

Garden Life: Cultivate ideas at upcoming garden shows

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

We are a month away from spring and I'm already spellbound. In February, three of the largest garden-oriented events in the Pacific Northwest draw capacity crowds by conjuring up spring from the remnants of late winter. At these events, daffodils and tulips bloom a full month ahead of schedule. Bare branched cherry trees and late season magnolias break into full flower months before their time.

Garden Life: Perennials give garden life year-round

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

Longtime gardeners have learned to add interest to the garden by allowing structural perennial plants to remain through the winter months. Of all the perennial plants that overwinter in my garden, the ornamental grasses hold sway with their year-round stature and seasonal interest. With the continuous introduction of interesting seed heads and sturdy plant stems, many gardeners have come to accept the tawny coloration of dried foliage in beds and borders through the season.

Garden Life: Fill limbo between winter, spring with valuable tasks

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

With the upcoming garden shows heralding the arrival of spring, I'm beginning to feel the urge to get back out in the garden. I consider this the onset of my annual bout with spring fever. This feeling is commonly associated with the upcoming change of seasons. It's the time of year when we want to venture back out into the garden but we're not quite ready for the heady pace of spring gardening.

Garden Life: Show offers inspiration to gardening lovers

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

The 2013 Oregon Association of Nurseries' Yard, Garden & Patio Show is the first outdoor show of the season and it's just a little more than a week away. Presented by Dennis' 7 Dees, the event runs Friday, Feb. 8, thru Sunday, Feb. 10, at the Portland Convention Center. This is the largest consumer gardening event of its kind.

Garden Life: Take advantage of breaks in wintry weather

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

Just when you think the cold and rain is going to keep you out of the garden until spring returns, there comes a break in the weather. OK, we should not expect a reversal in winter weather but we can look forward to the occasional period of warmer temperatures and even an afternoon break in the cloud cover as each day grows longer. On days when a long-sleeved sweater and a hat are enough to protect us from the chill in the air, we find ourselves venturing out into the garden.

Garden Life: Evergreens really stand out in the winter

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

New Year's Eve brought a bone-chilling reminder that January is a winter month. Temperatures dropped. There was a dusting of snow in Vancouver and an accumulation of several inches of snow up on my hill. By definition, winter is the coldest season of the year, extending from the end of autumn to the beginning of spring. Extremely cold weather comes and goes, but when it is present, it consumes our attention. Today, cold is all I can think about.

Garden Life: Dormancy fleeting in Northwest winter garden

By Robb Rosser January 3, 2013 6 a.m.

Now that we have had a bout of real winter weather, our gardens should remain in a somewhat suspended state of dormancy for the rest of the winter season. I won't call it a permanent state of dormancy because experience in the Northwest garden has shown that dormancy in our part of the world is fickle, coming and going with the rise and fall of our temperate climate. We share this phenomenon with Britain and much of Western Europe, parts of the northeast United States, New Zealand, eastern Asia and southern Chile.

The Garden Life: December sunshine brightens day

By Robb Rosser December 20, 2012 6 a.m.

Once upon a winter day, everything in my garden came together in the guise of a holiday postcard. There was no snow or sleet. It was not even raining. The sky was clear blue and the lawn was a verdant green. The first bloom of a winter hellebore stood starkly white against the leathery, deep green foliage. The bracing air drew me out and into the garden. The abundant sunshine was enough to warm my face. For a moment in time, everything was exactly as it should be.

Garden Life: Evergreens brighten winter garden

By Robb Rosser December 13, 2012 6 a.m.

Winter signals a season of discontent for many gardeners. Fading sunlight, falling temperatures and frequent days of continuous rain diminish the appeal of working in the garden. Take heart, the first killing frost does not have to eliminate your gardening spirit. Despite a lack of blooms in winter, your garden can still be exciting. Weather permitting, the garden is still worth exploring.

Garden Life: Learning requires getting your hands dirty

By Robb Rosser December 6, 2012 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. Regardless of the fact that modern technology puts information at our fingertips, the masters of any craft still learned the ropes by actually doing what they do so well.

The Garden Life: Embrace your garden's imperfections

By Robb Rosser November 22, 2012 6 a.m.

I'm beginning to wonder if there really is such a thing as perfection in the garden. The most beautiful rose bush, examined closely, will have the occasional leaf touched by black spot. At some point in its development, there will be perfect roses and faded roses at the same time. I am pleased to say that I am comfortable with this reality. I can accept imperfection in my own garden. It's still so beautiful.

Garden Life: Late-autumn lushness brings depth to garden

By Robb Rosser November 15, 2012 6 a.m.

Mid- to late autumn is one of the most beautiful times of year in the Northwest garden. Summer is a thing of the past. Winter is just around the corner and yet the late fall garden is awash with a kaleidoscope of plant interest. Fruit, bloom, bark and foliage hold sway until the bite of winter cold takes hold. While other cities turn ashen gray with the onset of cold weather, we begin to take on deeper color hues. The Northwest lawn turns a lush, deep green in gratitude for the autumn rains.

The Garden Life: Winter can be a colorful time in garden

By Robb Rosser November 8, 2012 6 a.m.

The most effective gardens start with a basic selection of plants that offer something of interest throughout the calendar year. In midwinter, the most striking plant in my garden is the large shrub known as "Copper Beauty" witch hazel (Hamamelis intermedia 'Jelena'). This dramatic shrub sports spindly, metallic orange-yellow flower petals that emerge from bare branches in such profusion that it seems fall color has returned to the garden.

Robb Rosser: Garden gives voice to one's personality, creativity

By Robb Rosser November 1, 2012 6 a.m.

In many ways, the garden is our voice, as well as the face we present to the world. It's what our friends, family and visitors see first when they are invited to our homes and into our lives. Visitors to my garden would be surprised to pull into the driveway and arrive at a formal, Italianate garden or a suburban yard. That picture would not fit their perception of a country garden, or of me. I prefer a more casual approach to gardening, with a mix of newly introduced and native trees, shrubs and perennial borders surrounding wooden decks.

Garden Life: For gardeners, the list of chores never ends

By Robb Rosser October 25, 2012 6 a.m.

I've been known to compare the upkeep of my garden to painting the Eiffel Tower. By the time I think I have finished the job, it's time to start all over again. Despite the fact that I cut back wayward branches on the Japanese maples last year, there is always another tree or shrub to prune. There is grass to mow and leaves to rake. In my garden, there is never a season when weeds take the week off.

Garden Life: No shortage of work as autumn arrives

By Robb Rosser October 18, 2012 6 a.m.

Officially, autumn has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. But my garden watering and summer upkeep go on as usual. As the season progresses and after rainfall returns, we can finally begin fall planting and transplanting. Empty spaces in the flower border make it clear where we can fit in one more perennial or a group of spring-flowering bulbs. It's also time to add large-scale trees and shrubs to the garden.

Garden Life: Fall flower choices add harmony to garden

By Robb Rosser October 11, 2012 6 a.m.

October brings with it the change of seasons from summer to autumn. More often than not the days remain quite pleasant with warm afternoons that seem to be an extension of summer. For those of us with a penchant for seasonal flowering plants, many shrubs and vines that flowered earlier in the year might surprise us with a second flowering. Roses, fuchsia and many cultivars of clematis will welcome in the new season with flush of intermittent blossoms.

Garden Life: Make plan for changing garden

By Robb Rosser October 4, 2012 6 a.m.

As summer begins to take its leave and autumn stands patiently waiting, we feel a need to redirect our garden energies. The change of seasons signals a shift in our focus from the daily maintenance of watering, deadheading and mowing to fall planting and preparation for the winter season. Inherent in the passage of one season to the next is a desire to plan ahead for the changes to come.

The Garden Life: Northwest gardeners welcome change from summer to fall

By Robb Rosser September 20, 2012 6 a.m.

For the longtime gardener, each change of season comes as the comforting recognition of an old friend returning home. At this time of year, when days begin to grow markedly shorter, I start looking forward to a lessening of daily watering and weeding. When you weed in spring, new weedlings are sprouting up before you get your pruners back in the holster. By late August, summer weeds are as enervated as the inveterate gardener is.

The Garden Life: Ornamental grasses look their best in cool weather

By Robb Rosser September 13, 2012 6 a.m.

As summer wanes and autumn waits in the wings, garden plants begin to change along with the weather. One of the most fascinating aspects of the summer-to-fall season is watching the metamorphosis of many structural garden plants. A group of plants that stands out at this time of year is the ornamental grasses. Most have reached their full height by the end of summer but it takes the onset of cooler weather to bring out their best qualities. Now, the stalks of ornamental grasses begin to color in burnished, autumn hues. Feathery flower spikes rise up above the foliage, swaying gracefully in the slightest breeze.

Garden Life: Start with big picture, then add details

By Robb Rosser August 30, 2012 6 a.m.

I spend most of my time in the garden doing seasonal chores. In my garden journal I keep a list of annual and seasonal tasks that need to be done in the garden throughout the year. At the beginning of each month, I refer to my task list for that specific month. In addition, I am always revising a personal, ever-changing list of jobs specific to my own garden.