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.

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.