Seed Selection Made Easy

Seed Selection Made Easy

It’s still a bit early to start sowing seeds here in Seattle – but it’s not too early to order them! Looking out of my office at the still snow-covered garden, I need a promise of spring, and poring over seed catalogs with tempting images of juicy vegetables and a rainbow of flowers gives me just that.

Some seeds are better sown directly into the soil (this is called direct sowing and the packet will tell you if the seeds prefer this). Others can be started indoors on a bright windowsill or under grow lights and transplanted into the garden later. Again every seed packet will tell you the temperature that the seed will need to germinate as well as the outdoor temperatures that are needed before you can safely transplant them.

I’ve always been a “list” person. Each day I write down all the things I want to accomplish and take great satisfaction checking them off one by one. If I do something that wasn’t on the list – I add it – just so I can cross it out again!! (Anyone else guilty of that?) That being said, here are some spring seed-starting lists for you.

Windowsill Gardening – Easy Seeds

I often grow lettuce in the shade of climbing sweet peas

No fancy lights or heat mats needed for these, just a bright windowsill (turn the seeds daily once they emerge though)

Mesclun, cut-and-come-again type lettuce

Sweet peas

Spinach – try baby leaf for summer salads and some of the  larger leaf varieties for later in the season


Easiest Seeds for Beginners and Kids

Radish – direct sow these big seeds for a fast harvest

Nasturtium – big seeds that can be started indoors or direct sown

Sunflowers – big seeds – easy for little fingers

Beans – big seeds that grow bigger than the kids!


Seeds that will Save you Money

A bed of meslcun ready for easy harvesting (with a rogue marigold!)

While my main reasons for growing my own veggies include superior flavor, supreme freshness, and access to unusual varieties, it also makes sense to grow a few things that otherwise would be expensive to buy either as plants or as harvested produce at the store.

Basil – I grow about 24 plants every year; enough to give a few away yet plenty to keep us in caprese salads and pesto all summer and several bags of frozen basil ice cubes to add to winter dishes.

Mesclun – how often have you thrown half a bag of mixed salad leaves away? Never again when you grow your own cut-and-come-again mix. Plus the flavor is so much better

Tomatoes – if you grow lots of tomatoes and have plenty of indoor or greenhouse space, then growing from seed makes sense as you’ll be able to grow those heirloom and fancy varieties that cost a fortune at the grocery store

Bulb fennel – this can cost as much as $5/head st the grocery store!

Parsnips – still not as popular in the USA as the UK – and therefore overpriced. They need a cold snap to sweeten up so think of these as winter veggies, not for summer harvest

Parsley – if you like adding this to winter dishes, plan ahead. Grow several plants, harvest in late summer, chop finely, and freeze in 1/4cup amounts.


My Favorite Veggie Varieties for the PNW from Seed

Jericho lettuce is remarkable heat and bolt resistant

CornAvalon (white, super sweet, good yield)

BeansFortex (round, non stringy, high yield), Helda (flat)

BeetRed Ace (reliable, good for pickling, roasting or steaming), Flat of Egypt, Detroit Dark Red,

CarrotsNantes, Purple Dragon

Parsnips – Cobham Improved, Gladiator

Romaine lettuceJericho (doesn’t bolt)


My Favorite Deer-Resistant Annuals from Seed

The deer completely ignored these stunning zinnia

ZinniaBenary’s Giant Coral were stunning last year


Cleome – easy to grow.

Snapdragons – Some great seed companies listed here. 2019 is the Year of the Snapdragon for the National Garden Bureau! Enter to win BIG!!


Seeds for Dry Winter Storage and Fresh Eating

Even though the tops will die down in winter, the parsnip roots will be fine

Winter squash – My favorite is Butternut

LeeksGiant Musselburgh did well from seed.

Carrots – Nantes holds well in the ground (Purple Dragon does not)



Plan Ahead

This single bed of beans yields plenty for us, our friends, and the local food pantry

Always leave a little space to try something new each year too. Last year I grew red quinoa for example. It was so pretty – but I admit that I found harvesting way too much work and not worth the effort. This year I’m tempted to try tomatillo, and cucamelons.

Certainly there are gazillion more options but I buy some things as sets (e.g. onions) or small plants (tomatoes, sugar snap peas, eggplant, peppers (bell, jalapeno, assorted chili type) because I need only a few and/or would like several different varieties. We don’t eat a lot of brassicas or potatoes – so I don’t grow them anymore. As much as we like summer squash we always produce far more than we need and since they don’t store well I’ve stopped growing them, dedicating that space to produce I can freeze or can such as extra tomatoes and corn. Our Seattle climate isn’t ideal for melons and since all my vegetable gardening is within a deer enclosure, I don’t want to take up valuable space with pumpkin vines that would be more for decorative purposes than eating (I use butternut squash for my Thanksgiving “pumpkin” pies as well as soups and stews). I also try to make sure that not everything needs harvesting and processing at the same time!!

It’s always fun to try new varieties

Finally, share the bounty. If you have room for a few extra plants, take the harvest to your local food bank or share it with your neighbors.


Favorite Books on Growing your Own

The Family Kitchen Garden (Timber Press) – easy to understand, good information on crop rotation plus great ideas to get the kids involved. My most dog-eared veggie book!

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey) – great info from a cold winter gardener with tips on cold frames, succession cropping and more

Growing Vegetables – west of the Cascades by Steve Solomon (Sasquatch) – meaty, thorough, science-based guide for organic growing.

Vegetable Gardening in the PNW by Lorene Edwards Forkner (Timber Press) – well organized with month by month information


Favorite Seed Companies

Renees Garden Seeds – especially their sweet peas!

Territorial  – my #1 go-to for organic veggie seeds and onion sets

Botanical Interest – their Mesclun mix is still one of my favorites

Seeds of Change – great selection

Baker Creek – specialty heirloom varieties

Johnny Seeds – often has varieties others don’t


Related Blog Posts you Might Like

New (and newly discovered) Deer-Resistant Annuals

Blanket Flower Beauty

Pretty Enough to Eat

Plant a Rainbow

Seeds of Temptation

Disclaimer: the book links are affiliate links. If you choose to order from them I’ll earn a few pennies towards my seed fetish.

Designing a Winter Wonderland

Designing a Winter Wonderland

It’s all very well knowing that for a garden to look good in winter it has to have “good bones“. But what do you do when a foot or more of snow turns those bones into a lumpy graveyard? Seriously – since when do white lumps look like anything other than just white lumps?

When I went to bed last night there were just a few flakes falling gently. We woke abruptly at 4.30am to the sound of our frozen sump pump singing its last grating swan song, followed shortly after by our 1 year old puppy, Molly, growling at the deep blanket of snow that had fallen overnight.

I couldn’t wait to get outside (in daylight) to take some snowy pictures of the pristine landscape. That idea was quickly abandoned as Molly tore outside with glee, snow-surfing, jumping, sliding, and running. And eating the snow. Which she then threw up – together with her breakfast – as soon as she came back inside. Clearly the serene aspect of any images I might take were lost.

One coffee later and suitably bundled up, I headed out into the moonscape. But what to take pictures of? I let my camera do the talking, drawing me to vignettes that told a story even though in that moment I didn’t really understand what that story was about. Until I got back inside and looked at the images on my computer. I then quickly realized that my best snowy scenes were those that featured color, texture and/or form – elements that stood apart from the amorphous white blanket.


Turquoise containers and a colorful glass sculpture create a dramatic counterpoint to the white backdrop

I have both blue and orange containers in my garden and they look stunning in the winter landscape – far more dramatic than the charcoal grey or rustic green ones I also have. This glass sculpture by Jesse Kelly is not hollow so is weather proof in my PNW climate.

Colored dogwood twigs would be another way to add color to a snowy scene but you would need a significant grouping of these to stand out. The colored bark of trees such as coral bark maple (Acer palmatum Sango Kaku), Bihou Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’) or Pacific Fire vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’) would be sturdier and be easier to see. (Incidentally my white barked Himalayan birch trees (Betula utilis  var jacquemontii) only stand out marginally in the winter garden when they are backed by tall evergreens. They are more eye catching in summer and fall.)

Textured bark

River birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) have become one of my favorite trees for year round interest. The peeling bark is outstanding. I have a clump of three multi-trunked specimens at the back of our home. In summer they mark the entrance into the meadow. In winter they stand as sculpture, perfectly framed by our back patio doors.

The warm mahogany bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is a close second favorite, seen above adjacent to our little garden cabin.  This is the scene we look out onto every day from the kitchen. The cabin porch is lit at night making it seem utterly magical. Notice how the blue cabin door stands out in the vignette also – unlike my golden conifers, blue conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs, which are all here but buried under snow.

The cabin itself is a wonderful focal point, a reminder that structures can also be used as scene setters in the winter garden.


This triple arbor anchors our island border. As a structure it stands out, but also its vertical and arched forms contrast with the surrounding garden which is mostly comprised of mounding or vase-shaped shrubs and trees.

It clearly establishes a focal point and an invitation to explore.

If you’ve got snowy weather, grab your camera. You might be surprised at what you capture.

Gardens of the World – come for FREE!

Gardens of the World – come for FREE!

It’s that time of year when Seattle-ites go into season-denial. Sure it may be snowing or raining outside, but within the walls of the Washington State Convention Center the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the air is perfumed with the heady spring time mix of hyacinths, daphne and sweetbox (Sarcococca). It’s Show Time!

Yes in just a few more weeks the Northwest Flower and Garden Show will be back in full swing. Forget Disney – to gardeners this is surely the best show on earth! And the theme this year is Gardens of the World.

What you’ll see

One of the 2018 display gardens that caught my attention last year

There are 20 display gardens to captivate your imagination and transport you to the gardens of Italy, Asia, and The British Isles to name just a few, all created by some of the regions top landscape designers.

Dreaming of recreating the invigorating alpine scenery of a recent trip? Then you’ll want to see Escape to the Mountains – a retreat with “altitude” by Adam Gorski Landscapes Inc. I can’t wait to see the plant selection for this one.

Personally I’m intrigued to see Notting Hill Modern English Garden created by Folia Horticultural and Design – if only because that’s one of my favorite Hugh Grant movies! Join me for a peak into this artsy London neighborhood to see how the designers interpret this contemporary style using symmetry and non-plant elements.

Take heart if you don’t have an outdoor space  as Patterns of Peace on Earth by West Seattle Nursery has the perfect display garden for you inspired by the tropical forests and sandy beaches of Ghana. This distinctive paradise will give you ideas for creating the perfect indoor vacation.

You can read about ALL the display gardens here.

What you’ll learn

After traveling around the globe you’ll be ready to sit for a while so take advantage of one of the 100 free seminars on offer. Speakers include world class notables such as Richard Hartlage and Charles A Birnbaum, top notch “out of town” speakers including Melinda Myers, Nicholas Staddon, C Colston Burrell, and CL Fornari and lots of your local favorites including the one and only Ciscoe Morris, Sue Goetz, Richie Steffan, and your favorite deer-challenged, foliage-first designer: ME! I’d love you to join me for my talk The Squish Factor: Designing Abundant Containers on Sunday February 24th at 4.30pm in the Rainier Room.


And be sure to check out the fun Container Wars competition MC’d by my good friend, gardening columnist and television host Marianne Binetti will have you laughing while you learn.

What you’ll want to buy

Delicious food and a glass of wine will soon revive you sufficiently to shop from the thousands of garden-related treasures in the Marketplace.

Win two tickets

I’d love you to be a part of this great show and so I’m offering a pair of tickets that can be used on any day of the show. To enter just leave me a comment below telling me where in the world you’d most like to go and why. I’ll draw a random name on Tuesday January 29th at 9am PST and mail the tickets straight out to you.

Boring rules that have to be stated: comments must be left below, not on an image and not on social media (that just gets too complicated!) You’ll have 48 hours to respond to my email telling you that you’ve won, after which I’ll draw another name. Finally, all entrants must currently live in the USA or Canada.

And the winner is: Kathy Juracek!

Congratulations Kathy – I’ll get those out to you today!

Visit England for Real!

Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire England

Touring the Chatsworth Estate: Karen & Andy Chapman

Have you always dreamed of visiting England? Would you like to join me on an adventure there next year? Read more about my upcoming tour

“Secret Gardens, Iconic Estates and Medieval Tales of Yorkshire and Derbyshire”

and sign up here to notified of updates as they become available and the opportunity to register. I’d love to share “my England” with you.

Planting Blessings – Lessons from Childhood

Planting Blessings – Lessons from Childhood

Born in Ballymena, 30 miles north of Belfast, my Nana never lost her Irish brogue, even after moving to England as a young woman. By today’s standards she didn’t have much. She left school at 11 to look after her siblings “just as we were starting to learn long-division”, married the boy next door, lived in a little council house in Wallasey, Merseyside, and devoted her life to raising children and keeping the home nice.

Yet her life and her legacy were rich beyond words.

One of the earliest lessons she taught me, sitting in her sunny yellow kitchen drinking tea and eating homemade “wee buns” (translation for the non-Irish: small cupcakes), was to count your blessings. She was a devout Christian who lived her faith every day. Reminding me to count my blessings wasn’t a trite checklist but rather a way to teach me gratitude. What today, some might consider an aspect of mindfulness.

Regardless of your belief system I think you’ll agree that when we learn to practice gratitude for all that we have, rather than focusing on the things we don’t or that we have lost (people, opportunities, jobs, health), we find an inner peace. It changes our perspective. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, nor does it diminish the reality of such losses, but it helps us find a path through them.

1983. Left to right: me (age 22), mum, Nana, Aunty Edie (mum’s sister) – visiting me at a youth camp where I taught canoeing each summer

Nana taught me how to appreciate the little things; a big pat of real butter melting in a volcano of hot mashed potato, making daisy chains on her tiny back lawn, the warmth of a coal fire on a winter’s day, catching “tiddlers” (tiny fish) in jam jars at the lake in a nearby park, tasting my first ice lolly in her back garden (first photograph). Throughout my life she modeled what it meant to love by freely giving me her time and undivided attention. She stayed up late at night making outfits for my teddy bear on her old treadle sewing machine, listened to my various teenage woes with a sympathetic ear, and cheered me on at many orchestral concerts as I got older. And her hugs. She was a great hugger.

What’s this got to do with gardening?

When we plant seed, we plant hope. We don’t plant a seed expecting it to perish. We plant it expecting it to thrive. We nurture it, enjoy it, and often share the fruits or flowers with friends and neighbors. We plant the potential for blessings.

My challenge to you

So many choices

As you start to browse through all the seed catalogs and plan your garden, take a moment to pause and consider how you might be able to bless others. Can you grow a few extra seedlings to share with a neighbor? Do you have room to grow extra vegetables for your local food pantry? Perhaps find room for some cosmos or snapdragons in your garden this year, for the pure joy of being able to cut bouquets for a friend?

There will always be things to worry about, losses that we struggle to accept, health concerns that threaten to derail us.  Yet our garden reminds us that there will always be a new season.  The circle of life will continue, and we can choose to focus on all that we have been blessed with and how we can pass that on.

My recent trip to England was a significant turning point as I struggled to adjust to the loss of my mum (the linked blog post will explain why if you’re curious).  At Christmas I had another moment of clarity as I watched our little granddaughter, Anna, happily handing building blocks to my husband, while my grown up children and their partners chatted and laughed in the background. It was this. Now it’s my time to be the Nana. It’s my turn to make clothes for teddy bears, teach little hands how to bake, how to plant a seed, how to love. I am blessed beyond belief.

I think my Nana -and my Mum, would be proud to know I have finally understood their legacy.

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I can still hear Nana singing:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Johnson Oatman, Jr., pub.1897

May 2019 be a year of blessings for you, and an opportunity for you to share your gifts, time, and blessings with others.

Gifts for Garden Lovers

Gifts for Garden Lovers

If your list is long but your time  is short, these ideas are for YOU! All these gift  recommendations are based on my own experience and use.

For the Homesteaders

We all know someone who keeps chickens, has bees, or grows vegetables – check out the many useful and fun gifts that Stumpdust has to offer. Honey pots, garden tools and chicken ornaments are just a few of these handcrafted gifts turned from salvaged wood in our very own barn here in Duvall, WA. Yes, that’s right, the Stumpdust Santa is non other than my super-talented husband Andy. He has even agreed to offer friends of Le jardinet a special discount. Type the coupon code SANTA10 at checkout to receive 10% off your order of $75 or more. Coupon expires December 4th so don’t wait too long! (P.S. The chicken set shown above would also make a great “new baby” announcement….)

For Container Gardeners

Give the gift of inspiration and education; this popular online workshop is truly the gift that will keep on giving. With clear videos, downloadable handouts, and information packed slideshows this workshop has everything your friends and family will need to get them designing Pinterest-worthy container gardens every time. Check out the details, read the reviews and purchase here.

Ideal for those friends who live overseas as there are no shipping costs!

BONUS: use coupon code 5off at checkout get $5.00 off (expires 12/24/2018)

For the Garden Photographer

As digital cameras  have become easier to use and less expensive, more and more gardeners have discovered the delight of taking high quality photos of their gardens to create cards, e-books, wall art, or simply to share with friends.

A tripod is an indispensable piece of camera kit, enabling you not only to avoid camera shake, but also to take superior low-light shots and frame up the scene in a more deliberate way. I LOVE my lightweight, super-portable MeFoto RoadTrip tripod. It fits easily into my carry-on or can be strapped to my camera back pack, is sturdy enough to manage my 18-135mm lens, is fully adjustable AND even converts quickly into a monopod for those scenarios when there isn’t room for a full tripod (think garden tours, narrow paths…). Lots of pretty colors too! Highly recommended and great value.

Taking all the photographs for my latest book involved traveling with two camera bodies, several lenses, remote shutter release cables, filters, SD cards, battery chargers, and more. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to keep everything with me as I was shooting – I couldn’t go back for something I had left in the car or I’d miss “the” shot. While there are many fancy camera bags out there I have found this inexpensive camera backpack from Amazon ideal, It can quickly be reconfigured to take any combination of gear using the velcro separators and the wide padded straps make it comfortable to carry even when fully loaded through the largest of airports or gardens. Check it out

And finally the perfect stocking stuffer for garden photographers – a waterproof case for all the memory cards one needs! This is the one I use. Many photographers would use it to store 12 cards. I actually use it to store 6. I store unused cards on the yellow side then transfer them to the grey side as I fill them. BONUS TIP: make some paper inserts with a grid of 6 rectangles drawn on. Then write in each grid what is on that card e.g. “Chanticleer”, “Grand Canyon”. It makes it easier to sort things out when you’re ready to download the images


For the Creative Gardener

Treat yourself to this fun, online course and make festive indoor containers for all your friends! Check out the video and get all the details here. And to help your budget stretch even further, the first 100 friends to use coupon code holidaypots at checkout will get 10%off


For Experienced & New Gardeners Alike

Perfect for every garden lover on your list, this book will teach you how to design with a foliage-first attitude. That immediately gives you a jump start to creating combinations that are lower maintenance, higher impact, longer lasting and truly beautiful. With ALL the reviews being 5 star, you know it’s going to be good. New gardeners will gain confidence as they learn how these combinations were put together, while experienced gardeners will love the unique designs and discover new ideas to try. We are justifiably proud of this book and we’d love to share it with you. Check out Gardening with Foliage First here.

That’s it – shopping complete! Time to put the kettle on and join me for a cup of tea and mince pie.

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