For many years, I wrote gardening and cooking columns for Seattle newspapers and national magazines, many of which are sadly gone. My life has also changed and I no longer travel or lecture widely but stay close to home to care for family members with health issues. My garden has altered as well, yet it remains a comfort, inspiration and great pleasure to me. Though change is inevitable, I am delighted to be sharing my experiences, ideas, and recipes once again through the Log House Plants gardening community. As always, I welcome readers’ thoughts and questions, which may be directed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Log House website.
Bainbridge Island, Washington
Thank you Ann for your wonderful books and advice!
I am wanting to make raised beds on an acre of land we have built on. I am dreadfully afraid to import soil/sandy loam onto our site to build beds after bringing in horsetail earlier (that has gone wild for 15 years). I have been fighting this pest that is now composted with yard waste in local suppliers and I understand (through extensive research) that it will not heat compost out. What should I bring in and where would I get it? We live in basically downtown Auburn. Most large suppliers use Cedar Grove compost in their mixes (this is where I got the infestation from to begin with). What do I do for established horsetail in my lawn and previous 70 foot berm? Please help!
Horsetail is ancient and not easy to get rid of, but it can be done, especially if it was imported and not already in place. However, fifteen years is a long time and I am afraid it has probably made itself quiet at home. The key things to remember with horsetail are that it thrives in anaerobic soil, that it prefers low humus situations, and that growth is stimulated when it is pulled up (the scarring triggers new shoots from the root). Thus, the way to get rid of horsetail is fourfold. First, always cut, never pull, the tops. Second, improve soil oxygen levels by creating a positive soil profile in all beds; in other words, mound up all beds so they are higher than surrounding pathways/lawns etc. A few inches is enough to get more oxygen into the soil. Third, carpet all beds generously with compost each season, increasing the humus content of the soil, bringing in more air, and neutralizing acidic, anaerobic soils (which horsetail prefers). Finally, trench out pathways to a depth of 12-18 inches and refill with crushed gravel to pull away excess moisture and again allow in more oxygen. Actually, there is a fifth step, which is to learn to appreciate the amazing beauty of horsetail, which is wondrously made and intricately detailed. If there are places where it persists, toss in seed of forget-me-nots and Verbena bonariensis and enjoy seeing the webby, delicate (looking) lace embroidered with blossom. Good luck!
I once lived in Seattle, where I worked at the Weekly, beginning my publishing career which now continues here in Boston. The first book I had a hand in creating was “The Year in Bloom” (for Sasquatch, back in 198o-something), which I still refer to. As a matter of fact, I was digging through this lovely book again last night hoping to find some information about how to prune a lilac. I planted mine about 17 years ago, and have let it be who it wants to be all this time. It is very tall (reaching to the second story), and bows down into the yard. I’m wondering if I can prune it this weekend without destroying it?
Wow, that was my first book, what fun to know you still use it! Yes, even in Boston, early winter is a fine time to prune lilac, which you can cut to the ground if need be. To keep lilac under control, the rule of thumb is to remove 3-5 of the oldest, most gnarly trunks to the ground every 3-5 years. A lot of older lilac varieties are really small trees, naturally reaching 15-20 feet, which puts the bloom out of sight/reach in small yards. Korean lilacs like Miss Kim remain small and are usually disease-free as well. Good luck, and thanks for the flash back!
Hi Ms. Lovejoy!
Thanks so much for the information! I never did prune my lilac, but now I’m feeling empowered to get going on this project. I’m spending time in my garden this afternoon, hoping to tuck everything in safely prior to tomorrow’s major meteorological event (nor’easter/blizzard/hurricane). I think I’ll tackle the larger trunks after we all make it through the storm.
Hope all goes well in terms of weather, and know that it’s pretty hard to kill off an established lilac. It will undoubtedly come back from pruning just fine. Just remember not to take too much in a given year and the root system will generate new growth come spring.
I have enjoyed your books through the years, though with the proverbial grain of salt necessary to translate to my own high desert climate. I have just found your blog and am enjoying reading through older posts — beguiling me at the computer, instead of where I should be: out in the garden getting it ready for my imminent 2 week absence to Scotland (where I will see more Pacific Northwest-like weather and landscapes). I just have to say, as both a gardener and pianist, that I am slightly taken aback by the photo at the top of your blog. I hope you got it right back inside after the photo shoot!?
Kathy in Bend
Ah, yes, that is the Log House Plants floral piano, bedecked with summery abundance. Don’t worry, no harm was done; it was an old piano, salvaged from a daycare, that was on its way to oblivion. Alice bought it, gutted it and it spent a couple of proud final years as a planter in the Log House Nursery gardens. When it finally fell apart, it became part of the woodpile, endlessly recycled. I do think a garden piano would be delightful, however; as a singer, I think making music out of doors ranks among the most pleasurable of summer activities as well (my group, Time & Tide, plays lots of farmers’ markets, boat festivals, and so forth). I hope you enjoy good weather during your trip to Scotland, which really does have a similar climate to mine (which as you may know is quite changeable and often less than delightful). Bon voyage!
Hi, I believe I remember you from my dad Nelson’s poetry workshop at the UW back in the early ’70s. You may remember me as Mr. Beast … or not! Anyway, just thought I’d say howdy.
– Sean Bentley
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Caramelized Savory Cherries. Yum. I did not have lime so I used lemon, but it was not tart enough for me, so I tossed in a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Wow. It was wonderful, thank you!!
Oh, sounds wonderful! I’ve been finding so many lovely things to do with them that I’m really sad to see the cherry crop come to an end!
I have just finished reading your Handbook of Northwest Gardening, and have also recently been reading a variety of permaculture and native plant gardening books. I am new to gardening; it is something I have been doing only for the last three years as a resident of northern coastal Humboldt County.
I have a question about a discrepancy in your book. On page 170, you share a mnemonic device (regarding “Staying Alive”) for the function of the three NPK elements. Per your example, potassium is associated with rooting and phosphorus with more general nutrient uptake/dispersal. However, on page 172, you state the opposite: you say potassium aids nutrient circulation while phosphorus aids rooting &bloom. Could you clarify which is the correct function for the two elements? It seems important to distinguish since, as you and others have noted, potassium is usually high in PNW soils while phosphorus is not.
Any clarification will be appreciated! Thanks, too, for your comprehensive book’s attention to our region’s unique gardening needs.
Hi there, and welcome to the wonderful world of gardening. You will find that gardening is as much an art as a science, though a grounding in science will be very helpful. As for your question, potassium serves a multitude of functions in plants, including building root systems and helping roots function more efficiently, as well as a bunch of other related functions. Here’s a little chart (see more at http://www.ipni.net/ppiweb/bcrops.nsf/$webindex/84CBB51751971AB3852568F000673A10/$file/98-3p04.pdf):
how potassium works to increase crop yields:
Increases root growth and improves drought resistance
Activates many enzyme systems
Maintains turgor; reduces water loss and wilting
Aids in photosynthesis and food formation
Reduces respiration, preventing energy losses
Enhances translocation of sugars and starch
Produces grain rich in starch
Increases protein content of plants
Builds cellulose and reduces lodging
Helps retard crop diseases
and this goes for phosphorus; Phosphorus is vital to plant growth and is found in every living plant cell. It is involved in several key plant functions, including energy transfer, photosynthesis, transformation of sugars and starches, nutrient movement within the plant and transfer of genetic characteristics from one generation to the next. (see http://www.ipni.net/ppiweb/bcrops.nsf/$webindex/ECBABED567ABDCDD852568EF0063C9F4/$file/99-1p06.pdf for more on that). So you see, it isn’t just cut and dry, but their functions are inter-related, like so much else!
Kitsap Sun oct.5, 2014 Such an interesting, informative article and what are neonics?!!
And why haven’t we heard about this from other sources, I wonder!! All these years I probably have been buying plants treated with this “whatever nasty stuff” and I thought I was helping our butterflys and bees and ladybugs buying the food plants they love.
I will be spreading the word! Are seeds treated with neonics??
Glad I went had a cup of copy and reading your article some had left!
Now I found you, I will check out your website!j
Adrian (from lovely downtown Belfair)
I’m not sure what you mean by the comments?
I’m a little surprised you haven’t heard more about the neonic issues, as they have been getting a lot of press lately. As for the seed question, a study released in March showed that seed treatments with neonics are not only wasteful but also dangerous to pollinators, and such treatments do not increase crops as claimed by marketers (and agribusiness). It’s a huge problem, largely because so much money is involved. Here’s a link to check out: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/3000/new-report-widely-used-neonicotinoid-seed-treatments-are-unnecessary-in-most-cases#
The safest thing to do is to buy organically certified seeds and plants from nurseries that make sure they only carry critter-safe versions. Hope that helps!
I have read almost all your gardening books and they have inspired me over the past 25 years. Our climate in Sydney, Australia,is very different to yours but the ideas and enthusiasm in the books are universal. You inspired me to become a gardening writer, which ultimately led to the creation of my gardening website. Thank you! Deirdre
Thank you so much for your wonderful books and column in the Bainbridge Islander – I have only recently discovered them. Your revised Handbook of Northwest Gardening is the best gardening book I have ever read and used! I have been looking for a copy of it to give as a first-house gift for a young friend eager to start gardening, but cannot find one, even on Amazon. Eagle Harbor Books says it is back ordered indefinitely, which usually means a new version will be out shortly. Is that the case, and if so, can you give me an idea when it will be out? I need to decide whether to wait for it or get him one of the original versions, which are still available. Alternatively, if you can tell me where to find a revised version, I would greatly appreciate it!
Hi Deborah, I think you’ll have the best luck looking for a second hand copy locally; you might even try asking on Free On The Rock or Buy Nothing Bainbridge…hope that helps.
Thank you! I tried looking for a used copy on Amazon and just on the web, but was not aware of Free On the Rock or Buy Nothing Bainbridge. Thanks for letting me know – it is helpful to know about those sites, even if I can’t get it there. I will certainly try them and also Nextdoor.
Really special to run into you at T and C the other day, a personal encounter.
Ann, I also want to say, your letter to the editor in the 2/19 Bainbridge Review was smack on! Thank you for spelling it out so concisely.
I don’t have an email address for you so hope this will get to you.
Thanks, my dear!
I have been led to you through the introduction you wrote in Beverley Nichols book ‘Merry Hall’. Just like you, I stumbled upon Down the Garden Path in the used section of Third Place Books in Seattle and became instantly smitten! My friends and I now are starting on the lovely journey one takes upon discovering a ‘new’ author who turns out to be a prolific writer. How could we have not heard of him before?! His writing style and the glorious ways he describes the joy to be found in the garden have us wanting to read all of his books. I was so pleased to see that someone local had written the Foreward to Merry Hall. Do you have a personal favorite Beverley Nichols book? I look forward to now reading your blog…you have led readers to Beverley Nichols and he is leading readers back to you!
I think Down The Garden Path holds its own after so many years. Nichols can be a bit snarky, of course (that slightly malicious tone was quite popular in his day) but his wit is as sharp as ever, and he sure did love his plants. And his cats, of course! So glad you’ve found a new writer, that is such a joy.
I recall that last summer 2016 you wrote an article about the mystery disease that is killing our native maples. One on our property ca 40 years old, suffered & dropped leaves the summer of 2015 and only put out a few leaves last summer of 2016. We are finally having it taken down. We would like to use the logs in a berm & and the chipped branches in the garden. How do we determine if it is a disease, and not worth worth gambling by recycling the wood, or simply rot or drought that caused the tree to die?
Thanks so much for answering. (We’re on BI).
Here’s what is posted on the WSU website:
I have used wood chip mulches for many years and only had problems once when armillaria spread from a rotting stump.
Hi, Ann – I have you in a lovely cameo in my new documentary film about the Rotary Auction, “Another Man’s Treasure.” I’d like to send you an invite to a private screening (invites only) on February 18, 9:30 AM (morning) at the Historic Lynwood Theater. Can you send me a proper email to contact you?
Yup, I’d love to!
I stumbled upon your blog* and was very pleased to see your tendency to respond to post (and respond to questions) with ideas, suggestions, and solutions which are biodynamic (i.e. natural) rather than chemical. Thank you.
Is there a way to “subscribe” to your blog so I don’t miss any new content when it is made public? I can’t seem to locate any such feature on your blog site.
*I was searching for information on natural roof moss control and rediscovered baking soda via your blog. (fyi – I found a local source for 50# bags of bicarbonate of soda.)
We are working on that, but for whatever reason it seems to create difficulties. Annoying!!!
Hi Ann- Why didn’t I know about your Blog???? I follow your every word in the Bainbridge Review, I have attended lectures and read your books and have always thought I would love for my garden to be a bit smaller so I could actually help out in gardening adventures with you around the Island. At this point time doesn’t allow. My two absolute favorite hobbies are cooking (fairly good at) and gardening (always learning)! I look forward to following your blog!
Welcome and thanks for your kind words! Hope you’ll find time to join us at the library some Friday…
Hello from Costa Rica….. My daughter, Amanda, introduced me to your blog which I am now following for a major reason to “observe your beautifully descriptive writing skills”!!!
No pressure, right?
I am reading your book cover to cover and loving it. Your comments ring as truth in my heart. I love compost, and I have a question about it. You recommend 4 inches of compost summer and fall. I have been doing something like that for a few years (more like an inch or two), but my beds are overflowing, especially the terraced beds on the hillside. They are overflowing the rock walls. Also, the soil level starts to creep up at the base of trees and bushes, even if you leave a bare area close to the trunk. It slides in. Do you remove some previous compost each time?
I don’t know where you live (or which book you’re reading?), but certainly, in some parts of the country/world, soils are already rich in humus and don’t need as much as our PNW clay does. If the compost is not getting incorporated, don’t use so much; start with an inch and see if that works better. However, if compost is too old, it can become over-mature and not as biologically active, so it won’t break down as readily. Another reason for compost failing to be incorporated into soils is a local lack of worms (though active mature compost is usually very attractive to worms) and other soil dwellers who do the mixing for us. The sliding you mention makes me wonder if the compost is too dry; another problem with post-mature compost is that it can lose some of its sponge-like absorptive quality. If anyone near you is brewing compost tea, you can dilute it 10:1 with water and spray it on elderly compost to revitalize it, though hot, dry summer isn’t the best time for that, of course. Hope this helps?
Ann, have missed your Gardening advise so very much! Am excited about meeting with you on the internet. Discovered you again while looking-up Hopley’s Purple Oregano, which I was gifted by a son on Mother’s Day. Beautiful plant which I was itching to cut for dried arrangements. Thanks for your help today, and thru the years.
Thanks, Joan. Glad you found your way here and hope I can continue to be helpful!
Dear Ann, I somehow knew of you years ago because of something about the BBI Library garden! I had no understanding of your proficiency then, but through the years have followed your column in The Islander. I plan to re-do a bed that has been sadly neglected and realize that I must get the soil in shape first.
I found your recent column on soil restoration quite concise and understandable even for a novice like me.
I hope as time allows we can find more info on soil restoration on your site here, so we can reference it as we move through our soil restoration journey!
Warm regards and stay safe.
Well, thanks! I try to answer questions in this blog or in columns so if you have something particular you’re wondering about, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer.
Hello Ann, I just read your article in the September 25th, 2022 edition of the Kitsap Sun, “Bringing soil damaged by heat back to life” and was excited to learn these new techniques for winterizing my veggie garden soil (containerized). I have a question though: I have four cedar planters, most are 18″ deep x 18″ wide x 48″ long, and I’d like to winterize the soil so I can reuse it in the Spring – how could I best do that? I have to admit that, in the past, I didn’t know I could reuse the soil, so I just dumped it along the border fence line of my property. One of the planters had peas/beans, another had lettuce, and two others currently have tomatoes (still ripening). Any advice you can provide will be MUCH appreciated!
Hi Melody, you aren’t the only one wondering about this.
I hope today’s blog gives you some good ideas!