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Gardeners are, as is well known, eternal optimists.

Next year will always be better.  Winter is filled with luscious dreams of larger, earlier warm season vegetables, because THIS year you’ll remember to start them in February. The seeds that arrived in the mail beckon with splashes of rainbow coloured tomatoes, untried squash and obscure greens promising heavy yields of THE BEST EVER…well, the best ever whatever it is.  The garden plan has been re-drawn in a new configuration with coloured pencils, intercropping planned meticulously, and flagged with notes from last year. You’re sure you have that deer problem nailed.

Of course, you generally do a little better every year in fact as well as fantasy, barring droughts, floods, locust plagues and marauding great danes- because you’ve learned a little something.  You noticed the cucumbers like this spot rather than that one, or that you’ll remember to pick the snap peas if you plant them within reach of the walkway, rather than a row back where they don’t scream at you “Pick me!” every time you put away the hose. Your soil should get a little better every year, if you’re doing it right. You should have a bigger, better seed bank because you’re saving seed, and hopefully swapping your extras.


January is both the best and worst month in gardening, in the Northern Hemisphere.  It’s likely everything is utterly at rest, frozen or just biding it’s time.  The cold hardy vegetables are pickable, perhaps, but growing?  No. There’s little you can do, or even should do- this is the time to think about the garden and what it could be.  Like a new baby, all full of promise and without mistakes-yet.  (At least you get the chance to start fresh every year with a garden!)

So what to do when there’s nothing to do? Get that map done.  If you haven’t started a garden map, do it. Permaculture mapping is a great aid to more efficient gardening.  If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link.

Now, when days are long and dark, you can get a clear idea of what the nadir of the season is like in terms of pooling water from rain or snowmelt, scant light from a horizon skimming winter sun, freezing water barrels, feed storage and heat for livestock if you have them.  Observation and note taking are key to making everything less work for yourself in the long run.  Get out there and take pictures of your garden once an hour from sunup to sundown and you can plan much better for next winter’s crop and any evergreen plantings.  (Yes, even in winter evergreens like rhododendrons and fir trees photosynthesize. Winter sun is important too.)

Check out the bloggers and resources.  Your local university agricultural extension is probably chock full of science based information that pertinent to your climate, but there’s probably others that are close to your conditions in temperature and precipitation, but not actually close in distance.  Finding out who is dealing with the same conditions you are can open up new worlds in horticulture- for instance, I live in Vancouver (actually Abbotsford but it’s 45 mins away) Canada, which means that the Washington and Oregon Universities in the USA have information relevant to me- but also parts of Nova Scotia, North Carolina, Serbia, the UK, Denmark, Yantai, China and Vladivostok, Russia. There’s plenty more, but you get the idea. When looking up solutions to your garden woes, information has to be relevant to your conditions.  Advice on your recommended plants or soil amendments will vary  depending on what soil and climate you have to deal with, so try to match conditions when you’re looking up how to deal with your own issues.

Where to get that special heirloom fruit tree? Who else is super into Andean root crops?  You’re going to spend time staring into the screen during winter anyway, so maybe pass on the celebrity botched nose jobs and look up links that are going to help you in the coming year.  There’s probably nurseries right under your nose on a left turn you’ve never taken.  No list of anything is ever complete- just because you’ve seen the ‘Complete Garden Center List’ in a news article or your favourite blogger does NOT mean it’s actually everything out there. Do your own looking.

Start Fresh.  It’s a new year, a new season, you get to start over if you want to.

I know I am.



Burning Pampas Grass. After it’s been below freezing for a while, it’s nice and dry, and it’s sure a hell of a lot easier than cutting by hand. Be careful though, flying bits can go everywhere so make sure it’s not windy and you’re not setting your shed on fire by accident.



This year the weather seems to be putting those of us in the Pacific Northwest in our place.  Normally, it’s we who are envied and hated in February or March, lording it over the rest of the latitude and parading about in shorts and sandals.  Well, not so this year. It’s been that chill-to-the-bone 2 degrees over to 2 degrees under sort of wet torture and I tell you, I can’t wait until it’s over with. Some plants have made it through surprisingly well despite the cold, since it hasn’t been TOO cold- like Onions.  I try to do something that is in evidence in the garden or at least soon will be, and one of the few things that seems to be growing in spite of the slush and hail is the onions.  Chives are well up, obviously making good time on the rare days it goes above 6 degrees, the red and Spanish Onions are making firm advances, and The Walking Onions never went away.

If you’ve never heard of Walking Onion, you may have heard another name for it instead.  It may masquerade as Egyptian Onion, Tree Onion, Winter Onion, or Topset Onion, depending on who you ask. Even the latin binomials can get you into trouble- you might find it as allium cepa var. proliferum, var. viviparum, var. bulbiferum…whatever you prefer to call it, genomic evidence has conclusively shown that they are a hybrid of the common onion (A. cepa) and the Welsh onion(A. fistulosum). Personally, that’s all I really need to know- there’s no mistaking it when you see it!

The history of this onion is a bit muddled with heresay and myth, as any plant with a long and convoluted journey will be.  Word has it that the name ‘Egyptian Onion’ actually originated with the gypsies that were said to have transported across Europe with them, not necessarily with the country of Egypt.  Egyptians definitely had the common onion, A.cepa, but the cross of A. fistulosum comes out of Asia.  Just to really mess you up, the Welsh Onion (A. fistulosa) isn’t Welsh at all. “Welsh” preserves the original meaning of the Old English word “welisc”, or Old German “welsche”, meaning “foreign”. To confuse the issue even further, a specimen of this unique onion variety came to the attention of Frenchman Jacques Dalechamp, in his country in 1587. I have to assume this means it was noted in his magnum opus,  Historia generalis plantarum which listed 2731 plants from his personal experience, near Lyon in France. This variety was ‘officially’ introduced into Great Britain in 1820 from Canada. Which is odd considering the French obviously knew about it more than 200 years before that.  Historians have been puzzled to see the tree onion, along with the Welsh onion, growing wild in North America. I’ve even seen claims that it originated here-probably due to garden escapees, since neither parent plant is native to North America.  Here’s my own pet theory: this hybrid onion was likely in common use by the time the Romans came to Britain, since one parent is from the Middle East, and one from Asia- it seems very likely to me that, since the common Roman did eat plenty of onions and Rome itself being a nexus of trade for Europe, the cross may have occurred during that period. Onions being an easily packed and stored staple, it would have been transported everywhere the Roman army marched, which covers a lot of ground. From Spain, Chris Columbus transported onions to Haiti in 1492-93. Subsequent settlements brought them over again -according to diaries of colonists, bulb onions were planted as soon as the Pilgrim fathers could clear the land in 1648. They don’t mention which onions, of course, but the hybrid vigor and easy transport of bulblets from the Walking Onion make it a likely candidate. Spreading from there it could have been rediscovered inCanada and brought toBritain once again. The Walking Onion has almost literally walked it’s way around the world.

The name ‘Walking Onion” comes from its habit of bending over with the weight of the bulblets at the top which then root and form new plants.  It can be so funky looking, sometimes with onions growing yet smaller onions, and those growing yet smaller ones out of that, all curling crazily every which way- you might want it as a curiosity even if you hate onions. Walking Onions are a strongly flavoured onion variety, but the bulbs, greens, and bulblets can all be eaten, and the bulblets are particularly nice to use for pickling or like shallots. This onion is very cold hardy and in milder climates can be picked most of the year (Although in late summer it generally dies down until the weather gets cooler, only a few weeks break.) In areas with more severe winters it could be grown under row covers to prolong the harvest, otherwise it’s one of the first things to make an appearance in the spring garden. These Onions can survive freezing cold winters with temperatures plummeting well below-24°F! They are hardy to zone 3.

Growing Some

Onions-any onions-can be heavy feeders in the garden, although they will survive in harsh conditions with less than ideal soil, you certainly won’t get as much from them that way.  Rich garden soil with plenty of organic matter worked into it and good drainage with plenty of sun exposure is, as usual, the key to getting lots of large, quality vegetables or bulbs.  Onions are perfect for tucking into the garden when you harvest something else, it’s easy to keep some extra sets (bulblets) in the shed to fill in gaps.  (I’ve stored these onions as sets for 2+ years, much longer than you’re supposed to, and they grew just fine when planted, finally.)  Onions-all onions-are great companions for a wide range of plants.  Roses may love garlic, but they love onions too, planting some in your rose garden may increase the perfume, (alliums concentrate sulphur and sulphur improves rose fragrance,) ward off aphid infestations and repel the dreaded black spot.  Actually, if you really want to combat fungal diseases like powdery mildew and black spot, you’re best off chopping up an onion and soaking it in water overnight, adding a drop of mild soap, then spraying the leaves with it directly.  The mild sulphur in the mix is fungicidal and antibacterial and in my experience, works very well.  Its very confusing odour plays insects for fools, and may help protect other crops from routine infestations. Onions partner well with fruit trees, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli and other brassicas, and carrots.  They don’t grow well with legumes or parsley.

Getting Some

Now here’s the tricky part.  I’ve never seen Walking Onion in a regular garden center.  Usually even the fancy types are not labelled well, even in a fancy full color package where you’d expect it.  (Like the ‘red’ garlic I was looking at-seriously?  There’s maybe a hundred types of red garlic-thanks a lot~!) It can be ordered off the web, although you will get bulblets and never seeds, since it rarely sets seed at all.  This is an ideal plant to find at a plant trade or swap session, looking in yards and asking nicely for a handful of sets, or asking around your gardening friends.  So get out there and talk to someone who loves their onions.

Sensationally Simple Sedums

I often have people ask me in the nursery for easy groundcovers that fill in fast, dense and don’t need attention.  There are a lot of things to choose from in that category, but unfortunately most of them have a malevolent side- they don’t just peacefully occupy the ground, they are hell-bent on acquisition!  Advancing, strangling, unrelenting invasive groundcovers are not usually what a person has in mind when they ask for something ’easy’. Especially when you can’t get it out again!

Sedums are often my answer to groundcover in hot, dry or otherwise difficult sites in full or part sun.  Juicy, delightful little plants that grow in horrible soils and come in a wide range of shapes and colours, Sedums can be stuffed in rock wall cracks, hung in a basket or planted in those shallow, impossible windowboxes that won’t support as much as a geranium through one hot day. Sedums are most often the plant of choice in green roofing, too- they thrive when fully exposed to the elements and given sharp drainage.  Sedums can live happily where other plants fear to tread.

Sedums come in a dazzling array of colours, forms, shapes, growth habits and cold tolerance.  The one thing I would watch for when purchasing sedums is the zone hardiness, make certain they will make it through the winter.  Not all sedums love full sun either, there are a few that prefer part shade to quite shady, like sedum makinoi ‘ogon’ that sells itself with it’s cheery little lush gold leaves and then often disappoints if treated like other sedums and left fully exposed. Morning sun or partly shady conditions are best for this adorable gem.

Sedum acre growing in granite in Sweden

Sedum acre (aka ‘Wallpepper’ or a host of other names) will grow absolutely everywhere, and only the fact that it’s quite easy to remove redeem it from being a horrifically invasive plant. I like it as a green, matte base for slightly larger shrubs and perennials, it looks like moss from a distance and ‘takes’ fast and easily to cover the soil when I plant something new.  It turns into a raft of bright gold when in bloom in midsummer. I find it to be reliably evergreen in zone 7 and it colours up with a wine tint during winter.

Sedum spathulifolium has a special place in my heart- I love the look of it, a bold silver, and its original parent also a native plant.  I’ve found it growing locally, but it’s never quite as silvery as the nursery cultivars. (Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ is most commonly found.) I find it to be a bit slower growing than many, so give it some space or plant with less aggressive plants so it can show off.

sedum 'Angelina'

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ is a top performer in the garden.  It looks very good in hanging baskets and containers

too, especially the ones you forget about in the corners (you know which ones!) Golden yellow, fast growing and holding it’s shape and colour through winter, this one is a crowd pleaser and fills in fast and dense almost anywhere.  Sun exposure can change the colour, Angelina will grow in shade, but will be lime green instead of gold and not grow in as thickly.  In full sun it will develop hints of orange in the yellow.

sedum 'dragon's blood'

And finally, my favourite red is Sedum spurium ‘Dragons’ Blood’. It has a good ruby colour in full sun and the pleasant bonus of almost red but actually really deep pink blooms that don’t clash with the foliage! It is not as lush during winter but still present and contributes some colour, in summer it’s that dash of deep wine-red that can be hard to achieve with hardy plants and is very striking with plain greens. For almost-black foliage try to find some ‘Voodoo’, it’s even darker than ‘dragon’s blood’ and looks great with silvery or gold foliage.

Sedums are a large and diverse group of plants. Honestly, there are so many varieties and cultivars of sedum that I would need to write an entire book on the subject to begin to do it justice.  Just take a look in your local nursery and see what they’re carrying this month- it is possible to plant an entire rainbow of sedums and there’s certain to be something you like the colour and shape of.

Getting  Some

Luckily, sedums are an easily reproduced plant.  Small cuttings or big hunks are quite likely to take root if you simply toss them on the soil, but with a small amount of extra care you can have hundreds of baby sedums in very little time.  One large pot can become the stock for an entire swathe of garden if you divide it up, and a small handful from a friend’s garden giveaways is a great way to start growing these agreeable ground covers.  Simply tuck ends of sedum cuttings into well draining soil and give a little extra water in the beginning if the weather is dry and sunny to get them to root in quickly.

Then ignore and enjoy!


First Words

Ah, the intimidating first blog post . Hello and welcome to my world.  What is this here blog all about?` I intend  to concentrate on posts aimed at the home gardener and smallholder who is like me, interested in getting the most out of the land in a sustainable, healthy, fun and productive manner.

Who’s me, LilyISay, the Leila Bee? I’m a plant nut, but also nuts about the Arts, ‘green’ design, the environment, herbalism,  new technologies and innovations, OLD technologies that work just fine, thanks, being self sufficient, the urban hen movement and a whole lot of peripheral stuff that interests me and connects in some way to the preceding.  Which in gardening is pretty much everything;-)  In short, if it ends in -ology, I’m interested.  Professionally, I am a visual artist and  garden designer by contract with a day job I love: advising, answering and educating people in the nursery. Our rather unusual nursery also sells poultry as well as plants, so don’t be surprised if the occasional bird post sneaks it’s way in.

Naturally, my posts will have a lot to do with the Pacific Northwest that I know, love and have to deal with on a daily basis.  I plan to include as many handy links to great gardening sites and other great references as I can. The plan is to have a regular bimonthly post.  One plant of the month and one other article related to horticulture, on Wednesday nights 1st and 3rd weeks of each month. Of course, I may feel sufficiently inspired to do more.  One can only hope! But life is busy and full, and I am not guaranteeing anything.  All that said, welcome  to Green Fuse.