Colorful Garden Show Unveils 30th Year

You’ll see plenty of color, crowds and cake at the big Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, going on right now in Seattle. The annual gardening season kickoff turns 30 this year — hence the cake — and fills the Washington State Convention Center — hence the crowds. The opulent show gardens are the big draw — hence the color.

I always enjoy the show gardens, although this year I saw hardly a nod to edibles, which is disappointing. I get it — it is hard to force tomatoes to fruit in winter. But when I see edibles incorporated into the lush landscapes, I am more inspired to imagine elements of the fancy designs into my own garden. Maybe next year.

It’s also great fun to see friends from the gardening world, like other garden writers Lorene Edwards Forkner of Pacific Horticulture or Laura Watson, formerly of Plant Amnesty, who knows more about clematis than I thought any one brain could hold. She’s sharing her expertise at a seminar, another important segment of the event for me — and not just because I’ll be doing the same. If you’re at the show on Sunday, look for my talk “Eat Your Year: Month-by-Month Actions for Continuous Edibles” at 4:15 p.m.

Vendors performing the difficult task of staffing a booth for five long days get my admiration too. I like chatting with Charlie and Carol of Charlie’s Greenhouse, the folks at Diggit and other local tool manufacturers, the always-helpful University Bookstore staff, and the volunteers at the non-profit booths, like aforementioned Plant Amnesty and the Washington Native Plant Society.

Far beyond the colorful gardens, the show is truly a wide-ranging gateway to the gardening year.

Here are images of my day at the show yesterday.

Arboretum garden

The Arboretum Foundation garden showcased plants of the Witt Winter Garden, plus a well-painted arbor and a reproduction of the new loop trail. It opens officially in April.

Chess set

A giant chess set, luxurious grill setup, and sculptural slices of ancient tree trunks combine for this imposing garden.

Beehive gate

This hive-inspired gate, complete with a bee at bottom, welcomes you to the Bee Simple garden.

Bee Simple

An orchard mason bee house sits hopefully next to an espaliered apple tree.

Colorful greenhouse

This show garden’s multi-colored greenhouse, accessed via a floating wooden deck, grabbed me.

Spa Garden

A “spa garden” inspired by Japanese “wabi-sabi” is themed in white.

Vanilla Farm

Orchids and a vanilla vine (in pot on left) surround a funky shed in the tropical Vanilla Farm garden.

Vintage Market

The Vintage Market provides a funky corner to the show.

Plant Amnesty

The Plant Amnesty booth was busy. It’s heartening to see the organization doing well after the tragic loss of its founder, Cass Turnbull, last year.


The ikebana display is always cheery.


The folks at Diggit have created another comfortable tool — a hardened stainless steel hori-hori with their signature colorful soft handle.

Useless shovels

Useless shovels. But cool!

Raintree Nursery

Sam Benowitz dispenses wisdom along with edible fruit starts at the Raintree Nursery booth.

Tiny Terrarium

A tiny terrarium sits in the window of the convention center’s skybridge, with Pike Street below and Pike Place Market in the distance.


These Opots come in striking colors, great to enhance a wall garden.


This Catlin Elm was raised from a cutting by American bonsai forefather John Yoshio Naka, beginning in 1970. Amazing.

Bionic gloves

Colorful hand-painted pots, yes. Bionic gloves? Definitely!

30th dinner party

A 30th dinner party is set in this show garden to celebrate the show’s 30th anniversary. Here’s to 30 more years!

Layer Cake

The festival’s own show garden resembled a layer cake of colorful flowers and plants, enhanced by art-glass candle flames.

Cheers to 30 years, and here’s to 30 more!

Holiday weather blues? Don’t despair, plant!

It was the best of weather, it was the worst of weather.

Memorial Day Weekend in Seattle will bring up brooding Dickensian thoughts. What should herald the start of summer here often disappoints. When all you want to do is take your kids hiking, go to a music festival, wheel off on a nice long bike ride, or simply just host a BBQ, you have to look to the skies, and judge the depth of the grey.

Why, then, would I start this post so optimistically? The best of weather, by what standards? Well, my Brussels sprouts love it.

Brussels sprouts seedlings

These Brussels sprouts, sown on May 7, got potted up to 4″ pots this week, and will be ready for the garden by mid-June.

At this stage of the year—what I call mid-spring in my catalog of mini-seasons—I am engaged in a garden tug-of-war. Part of me wants to grow the fattest red tomato on the block, so juicy it drips down my shirt. I want big pepper plants heavy with spicy pods. Some years, I even yearn for a stand of corn.

But my muscles yank me back to cool-season crops too, and possibly more to reality. Mid-spring is a time for struggle on the part of my tomato plants, and the peppers can stay under cover or fight for their survival. But it’s a glorious time of growth for cool-season vegetables. They celebrate this dreary holiday weekend weather like twirling hippies at a Phish concert.

And now, when you’re focused solely on getting those hot crops of summer in the ground, let the cool breezes of a maritime spring clue you in: time to give those long-season vegetables of next winter some love.

Tomatoes and Peppers in Greenhouse shelves

The tomatoes are getting leggy, and the peppers aren’t getting any younger in their pots. But the greenhouse shelves work great!

Here’s a quick list of what to sow now in pots for planting out in June and July:

  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage (winter)
  • Parsnips

And here are some things to plant directly in the garden in mid-July for fall and winter eating:

  • Collards
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Kohlrabi
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnip

There are many other, shorter-season veggies that can be sown later in the summer and into the fall for fall and winter eating, but for right now, instead of trying to jump-start summer, skip over it and look to fall. Put on a Dead record and rave on with your brassicas.

Final presentation at City People’s

Many Seattle gardeners are mourning the impending loss of City People’s Garden Store on Madison, which got the land sold out from under it for the inevitable mixed-use development. It was the first nursery I used when I moved to Seattle in the mid-1980s, and I still hold it fondly in my mind. When it closes at the end of this year, it will be a major loss for city gardeners. I will miss it.

I’ve been giving a series of edible gardening talks there for years, and my last talk is coming up next weekend. On Sunday, June 5 at 11 a.m. I’ll do a seminar on starting long-season vegetables. Hope you can join me, support the store with some purchases and give City People’s a proper send-off.

Seattle Tilth, MG plant sales? I’m there!

Thinking of picking up your vegetable plant starts this weekend at the big Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale in Wallingford? I recommend it.

See me Sunday, 10:30 a.m.

And if you come Sunday morning, you will find me there! I’ll be doing a show-and-tell about season extension products and techniques, starting at 10:30 in the education tent. Grab a coffee (available on site) and join me.Tilth Sale Poster

I might even rave a bit about my favorite heirloom varieties available at this year’s sale.

The Seattle Tilth sale, if you’ve never been, is a cornucopia of veggie starts. The tables are laden with flat after flat of tomato starts — more varieties than available anywhere else. They also always have a lot of pepper starts and eggplants.

They stock plenty of cool-season crops too.

The Brassicas will be plentiful — kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, even Brussels sprouts — and there will be Asian greens, edible

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weeds, lettuce galore and lovely leeks.

You’ll find the education tent along with live music and a number of vendors in Meridian Park adjacent to the sale site.

Try the Master Gardener Sale Too

Now, when you’re done with the Tilth sale, but if you have a hankering for more, get on over to the King County Master Gardener Plant Sale at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

There you’ll find loads of perennials in all shapes and sizes, and get expert growing advice from the

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swarm of Master Gardeners working the sale.

I will be on duty late in the day, but there are plenty of MG’s more knowledgeable than me who would love to be your personal shopper and help you find the perfect plants for your garden.

And if you have a plant with a problem, bring it along and get a diagnosis. Be sure to cut a sample shortly before coming and bring it in a plastic bag. This is a great free service provided by Master Gardeners whenever and wherever we host information tables (farmers markets, big-box hardware stores, etc.), but it’s a bonus to have it at the plant sale too.

The proceeds from each of these great plant sales benefit the non-profit organizations who run them. So take a break from visiting your favorite nursery this weekend and make Sunday your plant sale day.


Portland, Seattle Garden Shows, Here I Come

Lasagna garden tower

This tower of sticks is actually a “lasagna garden,” in which you stack compostables, top it

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with some soil, and plant your edibles.

I’ve just confirmed a speaking engagement at Portland’s fun Yard, Garden & Patio Show, which will be held Feb 8-10 at the Oregon Convention Center. My talk will be Friday, Feb. 8, 1-2 p.m., and will

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be appropriately titled “Cool Season Edibles.”

This will actually be the first official launch for my book Cool Season Gardener (pre-order now!), and I hope to have copies available for sale and signing at the event. I’m very excited to have this milestone on the horizon.

VW bus as garden shed

This VW bus was converted to a garden shed, complete with seed-starting apparatus, by Cascadian Edible Landscapes for their display garden at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle in 2012.

The Seattle launch of Cool Season Gardener comes two weeks later at the big and boistrous Northwest Flower & Garden Show, which is Feb. 20-24 at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. My talk will be at 12:15 on Sunday, Feb. 24, again on the scintillating topic of “Four Season Eats.” Books will be available for purchase and signing, and I will be hosting a special publication celebration that afternoon for friends, mentors and consultants who helped with the book – time and place TBA.

I’ve also just scheduled a five-class series with City People’s Garden Store in Seattle to again host workshops on edibles for their customers. This fine garden store in Madison Valley sets up a wonderful seminar space in their nursery, and we are surrounded by all the stuff that we talk about in the workshop. We always end

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the workshops wandering the store, discussing plants and tools and using the discount coupon they give to every attendee.

My first workshops there will be Early Season Veggie Gardening on March 9 and Soil Building & Amending for Edibles on March 16. The one-hour talks are free, but you must pre-register.

Late winter and spring are great times to attend garden shows and sit in on seminars and workshops. I like the tips and reminders as I’m getting ready to break ground in the spring, and it’s a time when I’m not spending every free moment in the garden. In my talks, I try to put in as much practical, actionable information as possible, providing things you can tackle right away when you leave the show.

Hope to see you there.