Mapping out garden success

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”— Gertrude Jekyll

Here is the garden record form I use to inventory my vegetable and herb seeds and plants, plot out where the plants will go in the garden and keep garden records throughout the growing season.

I use something similar for my ornamental annuals and perennials.

Garden Record.pdf


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Tips for organizing seeds from Pooh Bear and me

I keep the air-tight container in the fridge

“Organizing is something you do before you do something so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” ~ A.A. Milne (1882-1956), “Winnie-the-Pooh”

As a young child, I loved listening to Winnie-the-Pooh stories, and even today I cherish my little book of Pooh Bear’s witticisms. I agree that organization is a worthy goal, and one place to start organizing habits is with garden seeds!

Seeds to be sown in January

It’s one of my winter joys to open up seed packets when they arrive in the mail, but if I don’t organize them right away, the packets can quickly get lost among the other stuff that accumulates in my home. In Sunday’s column (January 8, 2017), I described my method of storing vegetable and herb seeds in plastic baggies by the month the seeds are sown, either indoors for transplanting later or directly into a garden bed outside. After opening up the packets, I add a bit of powdered milk to the bags. I keep the bags sealed and store them in an air-tight plastic container in the refrigerator.

Since I grow a lot more flowers than vegetables, I use one container for vegetables/herbs and another container for groups of annual/biennial and perennial flower seeds and bulbs. Within each of these groups, I also sort by botanical name, germination requirements and length of time for germination. Seeds could also be sorted by bloom time, flower color and/or other variables. 

Seed baggies are placed in divided container sections


Typically, I start sowing flower seeds in my greenhouse in late January or early February and continue sowing through June. I plant spring-blooming bulbs (daffodils, tulips, crocus, snowdrops, etc.) in October/November and summer-blooming bulbs (canna lily, gladioli, calla lily, daylily, etc.) in April.

Certainly organization has its merits for gardeners. On the other hand, Winnie-the-Pooh also reminded us, “One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.” Oh, bother!




Powdered milk sachet goes in each month's plastic bag

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SPF and UPF – What’s the difference?

But what about gardening?!

I mentioned in this week’s column (January 1, 2017) that my top-priority garden goal this year is to protect my skin. I’ve recently undergone  surgery to remove basal cell carcinoma from the tip of my nose and another surgery to reconstruct the tip. Definitely not the way I would have liked to spend my winter holiday! One thing is for sure, though; after 53 years of basking in the sun without protection, this experience has finally motivated me to take seriously the importance of caring for my skin while gardening outdoors.

I’ve never liked the greasy feel and the smell of most sunscreens, so I listened with interest when my dermatologist told me the best protection for my skin is to wear a sunhat and clothing with a 50+ Ultra-Violet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. She also recommended that I use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating of at least 30 on my face for extra protection.

I’ve known about SPF for a long time, but UPF was an unfamiliar term until I did a bit of research. As it turns out, these two factors are completely different ways to measure sunburn protection. SPF is specifically for sunscreens, and the more recent UPF rating is for sun protective fabrics. SPF measures how long a person can be exposed to sun rays without getting burned. By heeding my dermatologist’s advice and applying SPF-30 on my face, I’ll be protected for 300 minutes (5 hours) as long as I don’t sweat the sunscreen off.  The Environmental Working Group offers a list of effective sunscreens that meet its criteria.

However, SPF only measures protection from the sun’s UVB rays unless the product label states it’s a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which means the sunscreen also protects from UVA rays. Both types of ultra-violet rays are responsible for skin damage, including skin cancer.

A UPF rating measures how much of the sun’s UVA and UVB radiation is absorbed by the fabric. For example, a fabric with a UPF rating of 50 allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to pass through it. This means the fabric will reduce the skin’s exposure to UV radiation by 50 times (98% UV block) in areas where the skin is protected by the fabric. Coolibar is a company that specializes in UPF 50+ clothing, hats, and gloves.

Covering up while gardening in the sun sounds counter-intuitive to someone who hates being hot and loves being tanned, so part of my sun protection strategy is going to involve becoming more selective about the times I garden – before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. during the summer months. I’m also going to hang this picture somewhere visible. Anytime I start to revert back to my old, reckless habits, I’ll remind myself that I don’t want to go through that again!



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Caring for winter-worthy plants

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” ~Andrew Wyeth, American artist, 1917-2009 

Winter doesn’t have to look and feel lonely and dead, though. In Sunday’s column (Oct. 30, 2017), I shared my recommendations for 20 trees and shrubs that provide winter interest with berries, bark, and blooms. Here are pictures of some of my picks and a bit of information about to care for these winter-worthy plants.

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos alba) - Grow 3-6 feet - provide full to partial sun - not picky about soil type - good air circulation helps prevent disease - keep plant moist until established, drought-tolerant afterward - prune in late winter/early spring before new growth begins.

Japanese Skimmia (Skimmia japonica) - Grows 3-4 feets - grows well as an understory plant in partial to full shade - provide loose, rich, moist, acidic soil - don't cover root ball with mulch - fragrant flowers in spring!

Golden willow (Salix alba 'Golden ness' - Can grow very tall so needs to be consistently coppiced (cut back to the ground) - provide full sun to partial shard - grows in lots of different soils, including wet, poorly draining soil

Winter daphne (Daphne odora) - Grows 3-4 feet tall - Grows well in partial sun/shade - Prune in late winter to help keep shape - be sure not to overwater

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)- Grows 4-6 feet tall - cut back to 6 inches above ground in late winter to early spring - needs regular watering in summer

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) - Grows 20-30 feet tall - slow-growing - Grow in full sun to partial shade - likes moist-well-draining, soil

Red Twig Dopgwood (Cornus sericea/stolonifera) - Grow up to 15 feet - grow in full sun to partial shade - grow best in rich, moist, well-draining soil - needs regular watering during summer - cut back one-third of the twigs back to nearly ground level in early spring

Young's weeping birch (Betula pendula 'Youngii') - Grows 8-10 feet and 15-feet wide - grow in full sun - deer resistant - needs regular watering in summer - prune every other year by removing shoots around the base of the tree, branches that rub each other and branches growing inwardly

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Autumn’s beauty captured in seeds

“Touch-me-not seed vessels…go off like pistols on the slightest touch, and so suddenly and energetically that they always startle you, though you are expecting it. They shoot their seed like shot.”~ Henry David Thoreau, “The Dispersal of
Seeds,” c.a. 1856

In this week’s column, I wrote about fall as the beginning point for plant life (Sunday, October 23, 2016). Even though I’ve long associated fall with endings, Thoreau reminds me that the dispersal of seeds in autumn marks the start of the trajectory of life for a new plant that will emerge from its protective capsule come spring. Click here to view exploding seed from the spotted touch-me-not plant, also called jewel weed (Impatiens capensis).

Thoreau inspired me to take a second look at my garden plants with my camera, this time focusing not on the dying foliage but on the presence of seeds, waiting patiently for the winds that will release them from their parent and set them off on their independent journey. What an uplifting experience!

Flaming maple leaves in my front yard

Rudbeckia seeds on flower disk

Dogwood drupes with seeds inside

Calendula seeds

Pelargonium seeds

Iris seeds

Strawflower seeds

Canna lily seed vessel

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Great garden reads for flower gardens and container gardens

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher and orator (106-43 B.C.E)

This week, I offered some suggestions for fall and wintertime reading to spark your gardening imagination (“Garden of the Mind: 25 Tips for Winter Garden Imagining,” Oct. 16, 2016). In addition, I have several garden books in my library that focus specifically on growing ornamental plants – annuals, herbaceous biennials and perennials, vines and grasses. I’ve also collected several books on container gardening.

The following are my favorites that you may also find useful for planning, planting, and maintaining your flower beds and borders. Although some of these books are no longer published, I think they are worth scouting around for and buying used. Happy reading and gardening!

  1. “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Flower Gardening” (Susan Roth, 1995). I use this book all of the time because it provides information about everything related to flower gardening: flower-growing basics, how to design country, traditional, naturalistic, problem-site, and color-scheme gardens, as well as pictures, descriptions and suggestions for growing hundreds of perennials, annuals, bulbs, roses, ornamental grasses and ferns.
  2. “The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Flowers from Seed to Bloom” (Eileen Powell, 2004). I use this book to schedule sowing seeds, planting and propagating. Powell provides helpful tips on collecting seeds from garden plants, starting plants from seed indoors, and transplanting seedlings into the garden. Then she provides a comprehensive listing and description of annuals, biennials, and perennials according to their botanical names with various common names listed as subtitles. For each flower entry, she provides information and times for sowing, germinating, transplanting, caring for plants, propagating, and any special cautions gardeners should take with plants, such as those with poisonous parts.
  3. 1001 Garden Plants and Flowers: Tips and Ideas for Garden Lovers (Antje Rugullis, 2008). My daughter gave me this book as a Christmas present and I absolutely adore it, mostly for the spectacular photographs taken by Modeste Herwig. The author provides recommendations for everything ornamental – bulbs, annuals, biennials, herbaceous perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs, climbers, herbs and roses. This is the book I use to narrow down my flower selections to particular cultivars.
  4. Gardens to Go: Creating and Designing a Container Garden (Sydney Eddison, 2005). Eddison shows you how she creates entire gardens with potted plants, including recommendations for specific plants that do well in containers, how to choose pots, how to arrange potted plants, and accessorizing your container garden with furniture and garden arts. This is my favorite container garden picture book because of the beautiful photographs taken by Steve Silk.
  5. Pots in the Garden: Expert Design and Planting Techniques (Ray Rogers, 2007). This container garden book focuses on designing and arranging individual pots of plants. Rogers explains basic design elements and uses the colorful photographs taken by Richard Hartlage to discuss what works and what doesn’t.
  6. Step-by-Step Guides for Creating Container Gardens. I have several of these that I think are useful for beginning container gardeners or those who have more experience but want something visual they can use as a starting point. I can’t decide which ones I like best because I use all of them, so…
    1. Container Theme Gardens (Nancy J. Ondra, 2016)
    2. Container Gardening for All Seasons (Barbara Wise, 2012)
    3. Container Gardening: 250 Design Ideas & Step-by-Step Techniques (Editors and Contributors of Fine Gardening, 2009)
    4. Container Gardening: Fresh Ideas for Outdoor Living (Hank Jenkins and Editors of Sunset, 2010).

Please share your suggestions for great garden reads by posting a comment.

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More ideas for winter gardening: Propagating from cuttings

“Propagation is a fascinating subject and is well worth taking up for the sheer interest and enjoyment that it provides.” ~ Alan Toogood, “Plant Propagation Made Easy,” 1993

I’ve been writing about different ways to garden during the wintertime, and propagating plants from cuttings is yet another way to continue our

Theophrastus (c. 372-287 B.C.E), father of botany

horticultural endeavors throughout the cold months ahead. (See my Mail Tribune articles on Oct. 1 and Oct. 8 and my Community blog article on Oct. 2 for other winter gardening ideas.) Toogood tells us that asexual propagation (from cuttings, roots, etc.) was likely first used by the ancient Greeks and Romans about 2,500 years ago.  Theophrastus, author of “Enquiry into Plants” (c. 350-287 B.C.E.) discussed a method of propagating plants from shoots and dipping the stems into oxen manure to stimulate rooting and encourage a strong root system.

Today, of course, many gardeners use hormone rooting powder for successful propagation from cuttings; however, it’s fascinating to know that our modern way of propagating plants from cuttings stems (pun intended) from methods that were used so long ago.

There are two ways to propagate tender perennials from cuttings over the winter. The first method is to collect the youngest stems from a plant now and allow the parent plant to die. The trick is to find plants that still have succulent growth, such as dahlia, pelargonium, chrysanthemum and fuchsia. When possible, take basal cuttings from the crown of the plant as these are the  most tender shoots. Put the stem from the cutting without leaves into a jar of water and place it indoors on a sunny windowsill. Refresh the water frequently and wait until roots have developed. Or dip the cutting stem into rooting powder and place it in rooting compost or other suitable medium. Once the cutting has rooted, transplant into a 4-inch pot with high-quality potting medium and mychorrizal fungi to support further root development. Give the plant plenty of natural and/or artificial light and use a balanced N-P-K fertilizer regularly.

Basal cutting of a lupine

The second method of propagating from cuttings is to bring dormant plants into a heated place with lots of light in mid-winter and force them into early growth for cutting purposes. Remove cuttings once the shoots have grown about 2-3 inches and treat them as described above.

Although propagation from cuttings (and other methods) is a great way to increase our plant

Coleus cuttings rooting in water

inventory inexpensively, Alan Toogood reminds us that one of the best reasons to try our hand at propagating is because it allows us to really get to know plants. He says, “You will find that you look at plants more closely…You will observe their habits and characteristics and the way they develop…into full-sized plants.”

Sounds like a good way to continue learning and gardening during the winter to me!

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Fall and winter gardening in a hotbed

“Winter is not a season; it’s an occupation.” ~ Sinclair Lewis, “The Job,” 1917

If gardening will be one of your wintertime occupations, there are several ways to ensure that your plants don’t become too cold, even if you do. (See “Undercover gardening: Mysteries revealed, Oct. 2, 2016 for my discussion of cold frames and cloches.) In addition, cold frames can be converted into hotbeds, either by using electric cables or by adding fresh horse manure with straw to a pit dug about one foot below the soil surface in your garden bed. The manure generates heat as it decomposes and warms the soil. Covering the bed with glass or plastic keeps in the heat during cold nights, but be sure to remove the cover during the day for air circulation.

The OSU Extension Service publishes a handy guide called “Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest.” In addition to instructions for converting cold frames into hotbeds, the guide provides recommendations for specific varieties of vegetables for fall and winter gardening. Check it out!

milk jug cloche

straw bale cold frame with old windows

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Are you an ecological gardener? Ask yourself these 5 questions!

“Imagine a garden that never has pests, never needs digging, doesn’t need to be rested in winter, has no need for crop rotation, has virtually no weeds, needs very little water, and practically looks after itself. ” ~ Jonathan White, creator of Food4Wealth

Australian horticulturalist and environmental scientist Jonathan White says we can all have gardens like this if we practice ecological gardening. What’s more, he says an ecological garden “produces many times more than a traditional vegetable garden and regenerates itself year after year.” Jonathan offers lots of practical guidelines for creating a robust, productive edible garden that is also easy to maintain and is aimed toward ecological stewardship. Access an interview with Jonathan about his system of creating an ecological garden at

The topic of ecological gardening is also of concern to gardeners in Southern Oregon and the Rogue Valley. That’s why I’m excited about a class called “Are You an Ecological Gardener?” presented by OSU botanist and horticulturalist Linda McMahan at the Winter Dreams/Summer Gardens Symposium on November 5 in Medford. Linda poses five questions to help us determine if we are practicing ecological gardening:

  • Do we plant drought tolerant species or cultivars and group them together to maximize irrigation efficiency?
  •  Do we avoid using plants that are invasive to wild habitats in our region?
  • Are we growing some of our own fruits and vegetables to minimize use of transportation energy?
  • Do we plant native plants that help support native birds, insects and other wildlife?
  • Have we converted part of our lawn into ornamental or vegetable gardens that use less water for irrigation?

Susie Savoie, another presenter at this year’s WDSG symposium, and co-founder of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, recently teamed up with native plant nursery consultant Tom Landis to publish “Native Pollinator Plants” (2016). Their guide provides lots of helpful information about using native plants to attract pollinators to our gardens. They describe native plants with early-, mid- and late-season flowering habits and specific pollinators these plants attract. Susie will discuss “Creating Pollinator Habitats” in an afternoon session at the symposium.

Check out all of the other classes aimed toward ecological gardening on the Jackson County Master Gardener Association website:

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An assessment of my backyard’s feng shui

I’m not sure this is true, but I do know that feng shui principles include balanced use of the five natural elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. One way to assess our garden’s feng shui is to identify these elements and determine if they are in balance. Here’s an assessment of my backyard landscape according to this principle:

The fence and arbor provide wood elements, as well as tree trunks and branches and pine mulch. The trees and plants growing in healthy garden soil are earth elements that balance the wooden features. We inherited a rather unattractive concrete aggregate patio that I hope to replace someday with more of the natural slate pavers (another earth element) we’ve used to create a walkway that winds around the berms and down to the raised vegetable beds. We built a large raised bed with rocks (earth element) and three raised beds with wood. At first, the slate pavers were set in gravel, but they were too unstable, so we filled in with concrete. I tried to balance the concrete with earth elements provided by trailing and potted plants. The concrete rabbits and Japanese lantern are set among the berm plants to provide garden interest.

  The iron outdoor fireplace, patio furniture and lanterns provide metal elements to my backyard landscape, which are somewhat balanced by the wooden fence and stacked wood, as well as the Japanese maple and potted plants. The fireplace and candles also provide fire elements, as do the red flowers of the canna lily and pelargonium. To create more balance, I could add more fire and earth elements with colorful orange and yellow flowering plants and brightly colored pots.

Behind the outdoor fireplace is an unattractive area with decomposed granite that butts up to the 6-foot wooden fence. I’d like to built a deck here, balanced with plants and a hot tub (water element). Jerry rolled his eyes at me when I told him the hot tub was all about feng shui!

We have a dry creek bed that stretches from one side of the backyard to the other and down our sloping property to the back fence. The dry creek bed was built as a way to catch winter rainwater and channel it down to a swale at the bottom of the property. The creek bed is filled with river rocks and surrounded by planted berms that add earth elements to the landscape. However, the natural element that is missing from my backyard is the water element, which is now only provided by irrigating the raised vegetable beds and the berms. Adding a water feature and/or pond to the creek bed would be a great way to balance the earth and wood elements that are already there. Not only would the water enhance the beauty and feng shui of the landscape, the movement of the water would add a wonderful, tranquil sound to replace the noises that come along with living in the suburbs (passing cars, neighbors). I can’t wait to tell Jerry about this idea!


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  • About the Authors

    Rhonda Nowak

    Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, writer and teacher. With more than 25 years of gardening experience and a Ph.D. in literature and language arts education, she combines a love for plants, poetry, and prose in her Literary Gardener blog. ... Full Profile
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