Late Bloomers & Bulbing Fennel

bloom-clematis fall

Clematis ‘Hyde Hall’

I could have just as easily named this post repeat bloomers, bloom redux, unexpected fall flowers, or even bloom happy.

Who would have guessed after our extended Pacific Northwest drought of a summer, we would enjoy spring in mid-October.

A number of my plants, garden stalwarts, are unconvinced that Fall officially began on September 23rd.

In the courtyard, as of October 18th, a Choysia and Clematis mimic late Spring.


Choysia ternata (Mexican Orange) and Clematis Hyde Hall on an October 18th afternoon

While just a few yards away — right on schedule — Asters are blooming in the rain garden.

AsterI never expected this Lewisia to be blooming with Asters, considering it bloomed first in the Spring and then later in the summer. (It’s always been a reliable re-bloomer if spent stems are dead headed, but this year is a record).

Lewisia late bloomer

Lewisia cotyledon blooming on October 20th, 2015

red clematis w Senecio greyiAnother Clematis, growing in a pot under the shrub Brachyglottis greyii (AKA, Senecio greyii or Daisy Bush), climbs through the silver grey leaves which support the vine.

The Daisy bush hails from New Zealand, is reliably hardy here, and provided nice cooling shade all summer for this red Clematis.

Just a few days after starting this post the temperature dipped and Fall was definitely in the air. Yet this Hardy Geranium was still sporadically flowering.

hardy geraniumWhile all of the above late bloomers are unexpected pleasures, over in the vegetable garden, seeds of the ‘Romanesco’ variety of Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum (bulbing fennel) were intentionally planted in late August.

foeniculm vulgareBulbing fennel likes cool weather and the semi-sweet licorice flavor improves when soil or mulch is mounded around the base of the plant. I pulled up my first plant yesterday.

fennel bulbHad I cut the plant at the base of the bulb and left the taproot in the soil, the plant would continue to send up shoots of the delicate (and tasty) foliage until frost. But the best tasting part of the plant is the bulb.  This crunchy veggie with its light licorice/anise taste is superb when sliced thinly and tossed with a good olive oil and a bit of salt.

A Drought of Posts (and water too)

I haven’t posted anything since early June and have been cataloging my excuses, foremost is that the garden is full of plants (potted and otherwise) all screaming for attention.


Two decorative rain barrels each holding 65 gallons

The small kitchen/vegetable garden needs weeding, tending, watering etc.; three quarters of an acre of property (even if just brown lawn and bone dry meadow) demand a modicum of upkeep; and keeping all the potted plants limping along in the face of record drought calls for hand watering using collected water from ten rain barrels supplemented with post-shower gray water left in the bottom of the bathtub.

All of which leave me less time for reflection then I planned.


Eight more rain barrels (hold about 417 gallons)

Paradoxically, I suppose I could cite our incredibly warm and dry weather as motivation for sitting at a computer and writing rather than toiling in the garden, but since garden chores are a proven antidote to a sedentary lifestyle, I force myself to work outside no matter how hot.  [See my post on why gardeners live better and longer lives]

Add to that mix the example of five cats (now sadly four) who perfectly model indolent behavior in the face of really hot weather, and you can see why I long to curl up in the shade and nap too.


Emma, snoozing

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Despite its reputation as a rain and cloud magnet, our region typically has very little rainfall in the months of July and August, and many of our native plants are adapted to our dry summers. This year rainfall fell off precipitously in early spring and was accompanied by hotter than usual temperatures.

Unlike the greater Seattle area, which depends heavily on runoff from the snow pack in the Cascade mountains, Vashon Island (about 37 square miles) must rely on our sole source aquifer, which is reportedly still in good shape.

Many folks on Vashon have their own wells, while others belong to small water districts. Our water district, Heights Water, reports that while use is up this summer (after two years of summer declines) the aquifer is holding up nicely. Nevertheless, we are keeping the perennial plant beds, the trees, the shrubs and the potted plants from suffering severe damage by using rain water and hand carrying gray water as much as possible.

Here’s a look at some more scenes from the garden.

Morning sun from grape arbor

Woody enjoying morning sun as seen through the grape arbor

Sword fern, Japanese fountain grass, hosta

Sword fern, Japanese fountain grass, Hosta


Agaves, Cerinthe, Campanula

grape arbor1

Pots at entrance to grape arbor

From left, variegated sedge in pot, dwarf cyprus (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwoodi'), lilac and hydrangea

From right , variegated sedge in pot, dwarf cyprus (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Ellwoodi’), lilac and hydrangea

Our old apple tree is laden with fruit this year

Our old apple tree is laden with fruit this year


Mason bee house might be why


Avant Gardener: Music to My Ears


Dahlias in a vase

I’ve been thinking of renaming my blog The Avant Gardner:  Reflections from a Vashon Island Garden.  When I first thought of the name, I guessed other bloggers were probably already using it and never followed up. I also figured my garden was hardly avant garde, and neither were my gardening techniques.

Last night, before bed, I was listening to Sound Opinions on the radio. The rock critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot do a superb job of covering the music scene, past and present. This week’s show featured what they call “Buried Treasures: great, lesser-known albums from this year that deserve more attention.”

My ears perked up immediately when they played a song from Courtney Barnett’s new album…

I sleep in late
Another day
Oh what a wonder
Oh what a waste.
It’s a monday
It’s so mundane
What exciting things
Will happen today?
The yard is full of hard rubbish it’s a mess and
I guess the neighbours must think we run a meth lab
We should ammend that
I pull the sheets back
It’s 40 degrees
And i feel like i’m dying.
Life’s getting hard in here
So i do some gardening…

What follows that intro is apparently Courtney’s experience with anaphylactic shock in the garden.  The Australian singer’s new album, “A Sea of Split Peas,” features the song, named, you guessed it, Avant Gardener. 

This got me thinking of Aerosmith’s song,  Avant Garden, from their 2001 album “Just Push Play.”

I had a friend who spoke of fate and he
knew of another place in space in time.
He told of how me and my lady could look but we would never find,
said if you please I beg your pardon.
Sometimes the things you see they just ain’t so
your life can be an avant garden,
’cause love’s what makes your garden grow

By then, thanks to my sleep deprived state, my “Zonal Denial” plants were morphing into “Tonal Denial” plants. I decided it was time to fall asleep.